From international bestselling author, K.N. Lee comes Rise of the Flame, an epic fantasy.
There are six races, four realms, and one human girl who can bring them together in peace...or war.
Lilae has been hunted since the night of her birth. She is the only heir to the human god's throne.
For centuries the races have been separated by an ancient barrier. Now that the barrier is crumbling and vanishing, the races are once again pitted against one another.
Who will rule? Which races will survive? Will Lilae give up her chance for the throne to save the race of the man she loves?
Pirin already started to gather wood from fallen branches around the camp. “I’ll watch for half of the night, and then you girls can take turns. We’ll get horses from the next village and I promise we can stay at an inn.”
The twins smiled. Lilae watched their faces light up, and it brought a small smile to her lips. The thought of sleeping in an inn excited them all. There, they could drink ale and meet new people. The food was always hearty even if the beds were sometimes infested with bed bugs.
Lilae lingered near the slope into the woods while the others set up. She heard something. Her head tilted as she listened to The Winds.
Delia looked back at her, concern spreading across her face. “What is it, Lilae?”
Lilae held a gloved hand up and continued to listen. The Winds spoke to her. They were always there like an old friend. The voices that floated along the breeze or rushing winds always warned her when something was amiss. She had relied on them since she was a child, and they never lied.
Now, they issued a warning.
“Bandits,” Lilae said, standing tall. Her eyes searched for movement in the bushes.
“Oh, great. She’s talking to herself again,” Risa whispered. “Am I the only one who thinks she’s gone completely mad?”
“Shush, Risa.” Jaiza nudged her sister’s arm. “She may talk to herself, but has she ever been wrong?”
Risa didn’t reply. They both watched as Lilae stood completely still near the edge of the woods.
“Murderers.” The Winds were sure to tell Lilae that and she gave the twins a look that they understood.
“They followed our tracks, and they wish to rob and kill us.” Lilae said it as if she was discussing the weather.
“Humph. I wish they’d try,” Jaiza said with a glower in the same direction as Lilae’s gaze.
Delia drew in a deep breath. “Holy Elahe. We can never travel in peace.” She stabbed her staff into the ground. “Those bandits are damned fools to be this close to The Barrier.”
“I don’t like this.” Lhana’s eyes darted toward the forest as she withdrew o hide near the cave. “Why does this always happen? One day they’ll sneak up on us, I just know it!”
“I won’t let that happen,” Lilae said, glancing back at her.
“You will be the death of me,” Lhana said as she turned her back on Lilae.
Pirin gave her a sidelong glance. “Perhaps you’d let me train you sometime, Lhana. You are not as defenseless as you pretend to be. Your trait is quite rare; it could be of use to us.”
Lhana glared at him. “I don’t want to hear it. You seem to forget that I am a proper lady, only warriors use their traits.”
Pirin shrugged. “Suit yourself. I don’t understand why you’d rather waste something you’ve inherited.”
Lhana shook her head. “Never. So stop asking me.” She raised a finger. “The first queen of the black throne gave my family my dowry. Who else can make such a claim?”
Risa sighed and gave Jaiza a look. They both sat their things down without a word.They’d trained for times such as this with Lilae since they were all children; and this wouldn’t be the first group of bandits to threaten them.
Jaiza grabbed her bow, securing her quiver of arrows onto her back.
Risa drew her sword quietly and put the scabbard down. She rolled her shoulders, as if loosening her muscles.
Lilae grinned, her teeth shining in the moonlight. She loved when the twins were like this.
Jaiza stepped beside Lilae, who was younger yet taller. Her keen eyes looked into the growing darkness. “I’ll go ahead and see how many there are.” She twisted her blond hair into a knot at the top of her head to keep it from getting in the way.
“There are eight.”
“You know everything don’t you?” Jaiza rolled her eyes. “Fine. I can take them out.”
Lilae’s grin widened. The thrill of a fight excited her. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Pirin continued to unpack their supplies, shaking out their wool blankets. “This will be good practice for you girls. It’s been awhile since you’ve had a real fight. Maybe you can practice working as a team this time…”
Risa lowered her sword. “Eight? What a waste of energy.”
Pirin gave her a stern look.
“What? I was hoping for at least ten,” she said as though it was a sport. “That would have been good practice. I can handle eight on my own.” She put her sword away and started to help Lhana prepare the salted pork and beans.
“Father…” Risa said as she squatted down and pulled out an iron pot. “Lilae and Jaiza can take this one.”
“Don’t be so cocky. You’re not the best fighter in the realm by any stretch of the imagination, so stop acting like you know everything. Even your Evasion can be countered if someone has the right skill. Trust me, killing people isn’t a game and should not be taken lightly.”
Risa raised a brow. “I know it isn’t. But Lilae and Jaiza can handle it. We’ve done this how many times now? At least seven.”
“Never underestimate your enemy, Risa. You never know if those men are as trained as you, or better.”
“You can’t be serious.” Risa huffed. “I doubt it. We both know that most bandits are nothing more than boys who can barely hold the weight of their own cheap sword.”
“You’re not listening are you?”
“Yes, Father. I get what you’re saying. I will try not to be so cocky about it. That better?”
Pirin sighed. “You girls are impossible,” he said, though a small smile played across his lips.
“You didn’t train us to be warriors for nothing, Father,” Risa said as Jaiza slunk into the forest as quietly as a panther. Without a sound, she climbed into a tall tree and disappeared into the branches and leaves.
Lilae stepped out of her cloak with her dagger sharpened and ready in one hand. It was warm on her palm and pulsed for action. She listened to The Winds as they led her to the men who approached her family’s camp, careful not to crunch any of the fallen branches beneath her feet.
As the sun’s last light faded, she peered silently at the bandits from her place behind a tall oak tree. Energy flowed within her body, and there was an anxiousness filling her throat, and a fire within her veins.
The Winds warned her that the men were merciless. They preyed on innocent travelers, robbing and killing even defenseless women. In return, Lilae and Jaiza would show no mercy.
There was a sudden whistling sound as Jaiza’s arrow cut through the dark forest and slammed into the chest of the leader. He gasped loudly, clutching his chest as he was thrown back onto the ground with a solid thud. The arrow was made of the strongest wood and impaled him to the dirt so that he couldn’t lift himself.
Lilae noted the look of shock and pain on his face, as he strained against the arrow. That look always interested her. It was the look of one surprised by death’s touch.
Shouts and frantic orders ensued from the other bandits as they drew their weapons and searched for the source of the arrow. They held their weapons but ducked and cowered toward the safety of the dense, dark forest.
Lilae watched them in silence. She could feel their fear, knowing their hearts were thumping with terror of the unknown. She wanted them to feel that fear. It was the same fear countless others had felt when those men harmed them. Risa was right about one thing: their weapons were cheap. But these were not boys; they were men who had done this countless times, with success. This would be their last.
“Who's there?” someone shouted in a high-pitched voice that cracked with his words.
“Demons!” another wailed.
“Shut up, Gred. There ain’t no stupid demons in this forest!” Lilae heard someone reply, yet she could hear the fear in his voice as if he were uncertain about his own reassurances.
“I told you we shouldn’t tempt the Ancients! We’re too close to The Barrier!”
Lilae worked quickly, hoping to get some action before Jaiza killed them all with her skilled archery. She took a deep breath and her vision changed. She could see their moves before they even did them. Everything stilled for her; all sounds muted, and Lilae activated her Focus.
Silence welcome Lilae as she raced into the battle, calculating their every action.
She darted into the mob, with her dagger in her fist. She sliced Gred down before he even saw her coming. Lilae didn’t waste time making sure he was dead. Her dagger had cut his throat with such precision that there were no doubts.
She slammed into a tall, burly man who seemed more like a solid tree. His body was made of pure muscle, hard as stone. Lilae climbed his body and stabbed him in the neck. Blood spurted into the air.
As he fell backward, his hands racing to cover his wound, she hopped from his body and went on to the next. She didn’t need to look back; Lilae always struck true. She could hear him gasping for breath.
Someone grabbed Lilae by her hair from behind. She growled in annoyance and used her Evasion. Her ibellen flickered before his eyes, and in an instant, she swirled out of his grasp. She kicked him in the back with such force that she heard his spine crack.
His scream resonated throughout the woods, drowning out her angry yell at him for having unraveled her long red braid. Lilae put him out of his misery, pouncing onto his back. Her hands were secure against his thick, coarse beard as she snapped his neck.
She stood and swirled around. The remaining men were laying on the ground, covered in blood and dirt. Jaiza’s arrows protruded from their bodies. Lilae calmed her breathing. Only three kills. Better than nothing.
She stood stoically at the center of the massacre. Her eyes closed as she listened to the last groans of pain and gurgles of blood coming from the bandits’ mouths. Her Focus subsided and her vision of the world returned to normal. Then she remembered Pirin’s words about honoring death, even for those who were evil, and wished them well as they entered the Underworld.
Lilae waited until their sounds of dying ceased before making her way back to the camp. She emerged from the forest, her hands and clothes covered in blood splatters. She wiped her face free of a few speckles with a rag that Risa handed her. Jaiza already sat by the fire as though nothing had happened.
Lilae joined them. They all stared at her over the dancing flames as she warmed her bloodstained hands over the burning logs. Her pale face was streaked with blood and her eyes watched the fire without a trace of emotion.
“You should teach her not to get so dirty,” Lhana quipped as she poured porridge into their clay bowls.
Lilae looked at her bloody hands. The red liquid seeped into the lines of her palms. She rubbed them together, smearing the blood onto her knuckles. “At least the wolves will have a real meal tonight. Isn’t that right, Lhana?” She knew Lhana was afraid of wolves.
Lhana slumped onto the ground and took a swig of potent ale from her flask. She looked at Lilae and shook her head. Lilae felt an intense wave of sorrow as she caught a tiny tear slip from the woman’s eye.
Lhana quickly wiped it and looked away.
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