Storm Born Chapter Twenty-Eight

Storm Born Chapter Twenty-Eight

About two days passed before I had enough of a grip on consciousness to get out of bed. I had dim recollections of a commotion outside Aeson’s stronghold after returning to my body that night but little more. Shaya had cradled me in her arms. Dorian had yelled for a healer. But best of all, beside me I’d seen Kiyo stir.

Now I woke up in one of Dorian’s many guest rooms. It was smaller than his but as opulently decorated as everything else around there. I’d come to a few times before this but only now found the strength to stay up. Nia, who had hovered by my side the entire time, remained less convinced.

“You shouldn’t…you need to sleep more….”

I was stripping off the long chemise they’d put me in, trading up for my recently laundered clothes. “If I sleep any more, I’ll be dead, and I’ve already come too close to that. Where’s Dorian? I need to talk to him.”

“I’m sure he’d come to you, your majesty.”

I winced at the title. “No. Just take me to him.”

Despite her protests, her sense of duty couldn’t disobey the order. She led me through the maze of corridors where I earned a number of curious looks from the various occupants. Since my initial arrival, I’d become sort of a common fixture around here, accepted and ignored. Now people regarded me with the same frightened curiosity I’d first received.

Outdoors, we found Dorian in one of the gardens, standing over a small, fluffy dog. Muran hovered nearby, and between them, they tried unsuccessfully to coax the dog to lie down and roll over. It merely sat looking at them, tail thumping.

Dorian noticed me first, his face breaking into a wide smile. The healers had been at work on him too; no trace of the burns remained. “Queen Eugenie, lovely to see you out and about.”

Muran nearly fell all over himself to bow. “Y-your majesty.”

“We need to talk,” I told Dorian firmly. “Alone.”

“I never tire of being alone with you. Nia, take this unreasonable beast away with you. And take the dog too.” He waved them off.

Once alone with him, I demanded, “What the hell were you thinking?”

“There are so many incidents to which you could be referring, I don’t even know where to start.”

“Yes, you do. You made me queen of Aeson’s kingdom.”

“Your kingdom now, my dear.”

I paced around in the grass irritably. It was the middle of the day, crisp and sunny. “I didn’t want it. You had no right to do it.”

“It’s done. Besides, if I hadn’t, someone else might have snatched it up. Would you have liked to see your charming little sister on the throne?”

That stopped me. Extensive searching had found no trace of Jasmine. She seemed to have gotten away cleanly during the yeshin fight.

“Give it to someone else. There has to be a better choice than Jasmine or me.”

“Give it away?” He laughed his wondrous melodic laugh, the one that declared all the world was a joke. “The land recognized you. You can’t go back on that. It’s yours forever…well, at least until you die. Or pass it on to an heir.”

“Great. Here we go again. I might have known you’d start pushing that.”

“I did no such thing, but…since you brought it up…”

I stopped pacing and glared at him. “Quit it. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even want to think about it.”

Some of his humor faded. “Maybe you should. Jasmine certainly will be. If she has a son first, all your good intentions won’t matter. You say you don’t want it, but you know…it could all turn out differently if you beat her to it.”

It was so alarmingly close to what Storm King had told me in the Underworld that I didn’t even know what to say at first. Was this a coincidence? I felt pretty sure that all I’d seen there had been an illusion, meant to test my resolve and make me face my fears.

“What’s wrong?” Dorian asked, seeing my face. There was nothing sly or knowing in his expression, only worry.

“Nothing. Look, forget about the prophecy for a minute. Go back to the Alder Land thing. If you were so worried about it falling into the wrong hands, why didn’t you just seize it for yourself?”

“Why, Eugenie, do you think me so power hungry?”

“Yes. I do. I’ve heard and seen as much. When these kingdoms were formed, you wanted more. And you had your chance when Aeson died.” He didn’t answer, and I pushed on, knowing I was right. “But that would have upset a lot of people, wouldn’t it? Maiwenn and the others might have turned against you. But by making me Alder Queen…you got a placeholder. No one can say anything because I defeated Aeson fairly in battle, and now you have easy access to the same power. You plan to use me and this fucking title to extend your control.”

“You have a very low opinion of me. No wonder you’re so upset.”

“Come on. Why else would you have done it?”

He stared in astonishment. “Why, because I love you.” He said it as though it was the most reasonable thing in the whole world. Like I should have known this already.

“You barely even know me.”

“We’ve known each other almost as long as you’ve known the kitsune, and I daresay you think you’re in love with him. Your little foray that night demonstrated as much. By the gods, that was one of the most foolish things I’ve ever witnessed. You stopped breathing. I thought you were dead.”

I heard the catch in his voice, and it really struck me that he just might love me after all. It gave me a strange feeling, one I didn’t know how to cope with. Dorian loving a person was almost incomprehensible. I thought of him as loving only his own amusements and ambitions.

“I do love Kiyo,” I said in a low voice. “And if we can work it out…I’m going to – “

He shrugged, carefree and lax again. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t mind sharing you.”

“You told Aeson you don’t share.”

“As a general rule, no – and certainly not with the likes of him – but I don’t think you’ll give me exclusivity, so I must compromise.”

“There isn’t going to be any exclusivity or compromise.”

“So you say. You also said you’d never come to my bed in the first place. Or that you’d ever use magic. You probably said a dozen other things too. We all saw how those turned out.”

“Stop it. I’m serious about this.”

“And so am I. You’re a queen now. You control part of this world. Ally with me, and we’ll be the greatest power since your father.”

“I don’t want the power or the Alder Land.”

“It’s the Thorn Land now.”

“I – what?”

“The land conformed itself to you. The Alder Land was Aeson’s domain. Yours is the Thorn Land. You’re the Thorn Queen.”

“The smokethorn,” I recalled. If someone tried to force a crown of thorns on me, that was going to be seriously fucked up.

“Very fitting actually. A tree covered in beauty yet possessing a sharp and deadly core.”

I shook my head. “I don’t care about metaphors. I don’t want to rule this kingdom.”

He moved into my space, something passionate kindling in those gold-green eyes. “So what? You think you can just ignore it? Pretend it’ll go away? The land conformed itself to your will! You can’t turn away from that. Its survival depends on you – particularly since, for reasons only the gods know, you turned it into a wasteland.”

I faltered. “Well…I’ll get one of those people…you know, someone who rules in your place…”

“A regent? That’ll only work for so long. You can’t avoid the land. You have to come back and visit it, or it will die. You’re connected now.”

“I didn’t want this, Dorian.” I felt tired. Maybe getting up hadn’t been such a good idea after all. “You shouldn’t have done it.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that, but I’ll do what I can to make amends. Take Shaya. She’d make an excellent regent. And I’ll give you Rurik and Nia and any other servants you seem to like reasonably well.”

“I don’t really like Rurik.”

“No, but he’ll be as loyal as that dog I just had. More so, actually, considering what an unreasonable little bastard it was. Rurik will sift through what’s left of Aeson’s guard and keep only those who’ll support you.”

“You mean who support Storm King.”

“It’s the best I can do,” he said with a shrug. “You may take it or not. And you’ll still have to fill other positions yourself. Nia will do nicely for a lady-in-waiting, but she’s not quite up to being a seneschal. You’ll need one of those. And a herald too.”

He spoke like he was reciting things I needed to pick up at the grocery store. “Oh, God. I’m trapped in the fucking Chronicles of Narnia.”

“I’m sure that would be an amusing reference, if I understood it. For now, I can do no more. I’m giving up some of my favorites for you. The rest is in your hands.” There was a smile on his face, but his eyes were serious. “No matter what you think of me and my motivations, I swear to you I wouldn’t have had you seize Aeson’s land if I didn’t think you were worthy. There’s power burning inside of you, Eugenie. I meant it when I said you’d surpass us all.”

I shook my head and turned away, unable to hear this. “I’m leaving now. I really don’t want to see you again. Nothing personal. Well, yeah, actually it is.” I started walking toward the door.

“What about your magic lessons?”

I froze. “What about them?”

“Don’t you want to continue them?”

I slowly turned around. “I have some control now. Not great control, but enough to keep me from doing something stupid.”

“And that’s good enough for you?” He took a few steps toward me. “You killed one of this world’s greatest magic users with a novice’s control of water. Imagine when you master it – and the other elements.”

“No. I’m not going to. I don’t need to.”

“I thought you liked the way it made you feel.”

The ghostly memory of power flared up in my mind, and I swallowed, willing it to go away. I shook my head at him. “Goodbye, Dorian.”

I started to turn again, but he caught my shoulder and pulled me into a kiss. He deserved to be slapped, but the kiss was exquisite, just like all his kisses. And feeling him against me reminded me of our night together, how he’d brought me to a wildness I didn’t think myself capable of.

“That’s the last time you’re going to kiss me,” I warned when it ended.

He smiled knowingly, and in his eyes, I could see his own memories of that night. “So you say.”

I left him and returned to my own world.

Kiyo found me a few days later, as I’d know he would. I’d been out running errands and came home to see him sitting on my doorstep, in human form. He wore a white cotton shirt, tucked neatly into khakis. The black hair was brushed away from his face, and his dark eyes were as smoky and sensual as ever. He looked good – and healthy. Like Dorian, he’d enjoyed the benefits of gentry healing magic. In fact, Kiyo had received the very best: Maiwenn had tended him during his recovery.

“Come on in,” I said, unlocking the door.

He entered wordlessly, following and waiting as I put away my keys and purse. I offered him iced tea and then sat down with him on the couch, wanting to say so much and not knowing where to start.

“You look better than the last time I saw you,” I finally said.

His teeth flashed in a lovely smile. “Wouldn’t take much.”

I looked away. “Maiwenn did a good job.”

I felt his hand reach out and turn my face toward him. Those fingers held the same warmth I remembered, the same electric tingle.

“The way I hear it, it was more you than her.”

“I didn’t do so much.”

He tsked me. “Honesty, Eugenie.”

“All right, it was bad. Really bad. But I’d do it again.”

“You’re a crazy, wonderful woman. I can’t repay what you did.”

I started. “There’s nothing to repay. Why on earth would you think that?”

“Because I didn’t deserve it. Not after the way – “

“No. Forget it. I…I shouldn’t have freaked out over it. Not over something that happened before you even met me.” What I didn’t add was that I could suddenly empathize with how dangerous certain bits of information could be to a relationship. Like, say, revealing how a gentry king had initiated you into sexual bondage.

“I still should have told you.”

“Yeah,” I conceded, “you should have. But it’s done. I can live with it.”

His arm had snaked around me in that subtle way he had. “What are you saying?”

“You know what I’m saying. There’s too much between us…I’m not ready to give that up yet.”

The arm pulled me closer, and there was a slight tremble in his voice when he spoke. “Oh, God, Eugenie. I’ve missed you so much. You’re like a part of me.”

“I know.”

We held each other for a quiet moment, and then I heard him say in carefully measured tones, “I hear you’re a queen now.”

“That’s what they say.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Use your imagination.”

“Dorian had no right to do that.” There was a growl in Kiyo’s voice.

“You’re preaching to the choir here. I already had that argument with him. He doesn’t see it as wrong. He thinks I should keep progressing in magic too.”

The hand stroking my face stopped moving. He pulled away slightly so he could look me in the eyes. “That’s an even worse idea. You aren’t going to, are you? I mean, you got what you needed from him, right?”

“Right.”

He visibly relaxed, again touching my cheek with a sensual languor. “We’ll get you through the queen thing. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“There you go again with the macho protectiveness thing. Who brought who back from the dead?”

“Fair point.”

I gave voice to something I’d wondered about for a while now. “How…how did you know when I was at Aeson’s anyway? Did you really stake out his place and wait for me?”

His eyes crinkled with seductive mischief. Moving his hands to my back, he let his fingers trace the still-healing scars from where he’d scratched me. “There’s no place you can go that I can’t find you.”

I groaned. I’d forgotten about that. “Those damned things are going to heal one of these days.”

“I’ll make more.”

We leaned into a kiss, and like that, things were solved between us. We didn’t need many words to get across how we felt. Maybe that’s how it is with someone you really love, someone you’re connected to. That wasn’t to say we didn’t have reams of communication to hash through in the future, not if we were going to attempt some sort of relationship. But for now, the kiss conveyed enough. It was an exchange of heat, an exchange of love, and it felt like coming home.

“I’ve still got to make amends,” he told me, his lips only a fraction of an inch from mine, “no matter how magnanimous you’re feeling. You know, the usual. Chocolate. Flowers.”

“Whatever. I don’t need the covert signs to know you want to have sex with me. There are plenty of more obvious ones.”

“Like what?”

“Like your hand on my breast.”

“No. This is still subtle.” He pulled my body to his, melding us together. “Now, when my mouth is there, then you’ll know – “

“You’re such a freak. Sex got us into this mess. I don’t know that it’s healthy to rely on it to fix everything.”

“Only one way to find out.”

Queenly authority or no, I didn’t do a very good job of protesting. And when he pushed me down on the couch, I didn’t do a very good job of protesting that we should go to the bedroom. Fortunately, Tim never came home, so I didn’t shock his sensibilities again.

Whatever words he’d withheld in our conversation came out as Kiyo made love to me, telling me he wanted me, would love me forever, and would do anything in the world for me. They were the sort of promises all people make when they’re falling in love, but that didn’t make them any less powerful. I floated on them long after he left that evening, awash in emotion and contentment and residual lust.

I was getting dressed in my bedroom when a voice behind me said: “He’s a mistake, you know. So is the Oak King. You’re better off without either of them.”

I jumped and spun around angrily on Volusian. “Don’t sneak up on me like that! Christ. Were you watching me out there? What is it with you Otherworldly types and your fetishes? Exhibitionists and bondage and voyeurism. Good grief.”

His red eyes regarded me levelly as I finished pulling on my shirt. “I was not joking, mistress.”

“About Dorian and Kiyo? What’s the matter with them? Well, Dorian’s kind of obvious, but Kiyo’s all right.”

He shook his head. “Hardly. He is a fox, and part of him thinks like one. He regards you as his mate, and that is a dangerous thing. He and Dorian are both zealots in their way. They sit at different ends of the spectrum, perhaps, but both are fixed in their beliefs. Each will have his own agenda for you – even the kitsune, whose views you tend to agree with. They will each try to dominate you and make you think it was your idea.”

For one uneasy moment, I thought about how sex had been with each man. Aggressive. Controlling. I’d had small pieces of control, but in the end, I had always been pushed to submission, a submission I welcomed. There was only the one night with Kiyo – the night I’d woken up in the afterglow of remembered power – that I had truly been the dominant one.

“You would do better to find someone milder and more malleable. Someone less ambitious.”

I considered his words. Maybe he was right. Maybe. “Men without ambition are boring.”

“And that attitude, mistress, is why the females of your kind continue to struggle for equality. And why they continue to fail.”

I sat on the bed and clasped my hands in front of me. “I didn’t summon you. Was that all you came to tell me, Dr. Love?”

“No. I came to tell you that you need to visit your kingdom sooner rather than later. The people are nervous and restless. You are their queen, and that means something, no matter how much you loathe it. Your people need to see a strong monarch right away.”

“I was hoping to put that off.” My people, huh?

“I wouldn’t recommend it. Not unless you want a disaster on your hands.”

“So should I appoint you as one of my advisers now?”

“You may do anything you like. As for me, I tend to share Finn’s view. If I cannot rip you apart yet and must be enslaved to someone, I would rather it be to someone more important than a human shaman.”

I’d been teasing him, but my feelings sobered at the thought of Finn and poor Nandi. “You’re the last man standing, Volusian. Who would have seen that coming?”

“I did, mistress.” The incredulous look on his face resembled Dorian’s when he’d told me he loved me. “There was never any question. They were inferior.”

I laughed. “I never thought I’d say this, but after everything that’s happened, you’re the only normal thing I can rely on.”

He didn’t reply.

“Go back to the Otherworld and stay with Shaya. Tell her I’ll be there soon. Only cross over if there’s a message I need to hear.”

“As the Thorn Queen wishes.”

“Oh, be quiet.”

I spoke the banishing words and sent him on. After that, I stretched out on my bed and tried to assess my life thus far. I was still a shaman, one of the most powerful around if the stories were true. I possessed human means of working and controlling magic, using it to fight and banish anything nasty that slipped into this plane. But I was also gentry, the daughter of one of the Otherworld’s biggest tyrants, and I could supposedly be the one to bring about a terrible prophecy – provided my woman-child sister didn’t do it first. I was dating a guy who could turn into a fox and who might very well turn on me if I ever got pregnant. I had the love of a king who could tie damned good knots and wanted my help to take over his world and my own. Somehow I’d developed the power to call storms and blow up people. I’d been to the land of death and returned. And finally, I was a queen: the Thorn Queen, which didn’t exactly sound flattering. Why couldn’t I have been the Violet Queen or something? Why trees and not flowers? There was no accounting for Otherworldly tastes.

I needed tequila and Def Leppard right away.

I walked out to the kitchen, hoping to uncover one or the other but found neither. Instead, I settled for water from a large glass pitcher we kept chilled in the refrigerator. I poured a cup for myself and then set to refilling the pitcher while my mind spun.

Why had everything turned so confusing lately? I didn’t want any of this. I just wanted Kiyo and the occasional exorcism. Love and a way to pay the mortgage. That was it. I didn’t need all this Otherworldly entanglement or the gentry and their games. They offered me nothing. I didn’t want anything from any of them.

Angrily, I slammed the faucet off and turned toward the refrigerator. I didn’t realize how wet my fingers were until the glass pitcher slipped from my hands. Everything after that happened in the space of a heartbeat. The pitcher fell. It hit. It shattered. Without thinking, my senses reached out and seized the water, ordering it to stay where it was. There was nothing to be done for the glass –

Yet, it didn’t move. The shards hung frozen in midair, just like the water, suspended in the pattern created from the impact. I stared, dumbstruck, until a faint breeze brushed my skin and I realized the fragments trembled slightly. Cautiously, I reached out to that air with my mind and felt its answering resonance. Stretching further, I could sense the currents of power running from me to the space around the glass. The air shifted there as its molecules fought to keep the pieces from falling. Somehow, without even knowing how, I’d made the air obey me, just as I had the water.

Only this was a lot more difficult. I gradually became aware of exactly how I affected the air molecules, and the longer I did it, the harder it was. The pieces of glass felt like bricks, their weight heavy on my senses as I kept holding them up. With a casual thought, I sent the water away to my sink. Forcing all of my attention to the glass gave me a little more strength, but I knew my control would give out soon. Still, I held on. I suddenly wanted to dominate the air, understand how it worked and what I needed to do to command it.

Imagine when you master it – and the other elements.

As I connected to the air, I felt that burning, glorious feeling start to run through me. It still had yet to ever come close to the levels in the dream-memory, but the surge I felt now was stronger and sweeter than anything else I’d felt from controlling water alone.

Tim walked in just then, freezing midstep when he saw me. “Eugenie?”

Fatigue beat at my muscles, and sweat broke out along my brow. The glass would fall any moment now, and when it did, the magical high would disappear. I fought as long as I could, but when the glass started to shake violently, I hastily ordered the air to carry the pieces to a nearby garbage can. My control was clumsy; only some of the glass made it.

I thought you liked the way it made it made you feel.

Gasping, I sat down in a chair, staring at the glass on the floor. Tim was staring at me.

“Eug…what just happened?”

The euphoria of power flickered briefly as I desperately tried to summon the air again. No luck. That achingly wonderful glory drained out of me, like embers fading from orange to gray. Some part of my soul screamed for it as it disappeared, begging it to come back, swearing that I would do anything at all for it to return. I closed my eyes and swallowed.

“Eugenie,” Tim tried again, “what was that?”

I opened my eyes and followed his gaze to the glass that still lay on the floor. It took me a moment to find my voice, and when I did, it came out soft and husky.

“I don’t know. But I think I want it.”