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AN ECHO OF FIRE
A Fireheart Novel
© 2023 Amber Lynn Natusch
I ran through the silent halls of the manor on light feet, ducking from shadow to shadow to make sure I wasn’t caught. It was clear from the tone of my father’s letter that it wouldn’t end well for me if I was. The Midlands were no longer safe for me.
The front door was the nearest exit but also the most conspicuous. With no time to debate the merits of finding another way out, I darted toward it. When I reached the heavy wooden doors, I pressed myself flat against them and calmed my breathing so I could hear if I’d been followed. I was greeted by eerie silence, which put me more on edge than ever. Instead of weighing what it could mean, I pulled the door open just enough to slip through, then closed it gently.
The dead of night greeted me, its inky black sky peppered with stars and a bright blue moon; the light that would help guide me on my journey. That and the blessing stone in my hand.
My blood-red wings snapped open, stretching before I could take to the sky. But first, I needed to get off Kaplyn’s property. It had long been warded against flight, and for good reason. There was history between my father’s country and his, and it was not pleasant. At least not until the treaty. As I sprinted for the front gate, I wondered what treachery had forced my father to send the note telling me to flee. Whatever the reason, it was clear that the truce between the Nychterídes and Neráides had fallen.
And I was officially an enemy in Neráida lands.
I stuffed that worry away and threw open the wrought-iron gate. The second it snapped shut, a bloodcurdling sound rang out through the night. I looked back to see iridescent green eyes lurking in the shadows near the manor, staring in my direction. With a jolt of fear, I took to the sky, wings beating hard and fast.
And those green eyes followed.
I looked back to find the night swirling behind me, the billowy tendrils curling into the shape of something massive and winged. The shrill cry it made as it neared made my heart stop dead in my chest. Whatever it was, it was after me, but for what purpose, I didn’t know. I had no intention of finding out, either.
With that thought to motivate me, I pushed harder, following the pull of the blessing stone, trusting Delphyne’s trinket to guide me through the dangers of the Midlands. But even it could not save me from the creature gaining on me. I prayed to the gods that Delphyne hadn’t turned on me too; hadn’t sent me off with a beacon for the monster chasing me to follow.
“Aaaaaaaaaariellllllllll,” it cried, its mangled caw butchering my name—but it knew it, and that was a grim sign indeed, for names had power in the Midlands.
I felt my wings slow with every drawn-out syllable.
“No, no, no!” I yelled, panic shooting through my limbs. I tried to think of the tricks Kaplyn had taught me during our training sessions—the ones to ward off the magic of the Neráida—but my mind was too gripped by fear to focus. As I slowed to a crawl, the beast gaining on me with every second, my survival instincts finally kicked in and cleared my head. I screamed my name backwards as loud as I could: “LEIRA!” The second the word left my mouth, the tether holding me back snapped, and I surged forward.
The creature screeched in frustration.
“I won’t let you take me alive!” I shouted over my shoulder. “I am the daughter of Kade, General of the Nychteríde army. I will return to him or die, and not by your hands!” The powerful beat of wings that had chased me for miles ceased. Through a break in the clouds, I saw a massive raven hovering in the air, staring at me with those piercing green eyes. “Tell Lord Kaplyn I know of his plans to betray me,” I yelled at it.
With a sharp dive, I sped toward the ground, my wings tucked in tight behind me. No other had ever been able to match my speed when I did, and I doubted the bird was any different. If I could put enough distance between us, I knew I’d be all right. With the moonlight to guide me, I weaved my way through trees and buildings until far in the distance, miles and miles away, I could see a dark forest of pine and fir trees—the trees of Daglaar. My father’s land. My home.
A final cry from the raven echoed through the Midlands, sounding my escape.
I poured on speed and didn’t stop until I reached the border.
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