Crystal Crowned (Air Awakens #5) - Elise Kova

CHAPTER 1

Frigid air clawed its way under the pelts piled atop Vhalla Yarl, hunting out her warmth to herd it away only as winter could. She rolled over, jarred awake by a searing pain in her shoulder. Wincing inwardly, she eased off the wound, her hand instinctually reaching to rub it. It throbbed and itched worse with each passing day. Elecia was doing all she could to heal it, but healing supplies were severely limited. Even for a sorcerer of the woman’s caliber, there was only so much that could be done to quicken the healing process.

Vhalla rubbed her eyes and pushed herself to a seated position. Her companions rested where they had finally collapsed the day prior, the after effects of the mental exhaustion. Fritz breathed heavily to her left, huddled against Elecia. Jax lay to Vhalla’s right. The Northern princess and her guard curled in on each other, slumbering in the corner.

Her eyes met the Westerner’s, and Vhalla inquisitively searched his gaze. Jax understood her silent question, snaking a hand out from under the blankets and pointing to the doorway. Vhalla stared at the vacant space to her immediate right, the vacancy that had let the cold in. One of her companions was not as she had left them.

Easing herself slowly up, Vhalla crept out of the bedroom, pulling a heavy blanket around her shoulders. The main room was empty. Fire smoldered in the recesses of the hearth, offering little to ward off the chill. It was easy to take stock of the Charem family home; there was the room in which the guests slept, the loft above that held Fritz’s family, and the main room in which she now stood. Her eyes fell on the boots lined up by the door, and her gaze noted the empty space between two pairs.

Booted and bundled, Vhalla ventured into the early twilight morning. The moon and stars still offered as much light as the early tendrils of dawn. The world of heavy snow and skeleton trees was void of color. It seemed as if it was withholding life until those horrors that had been unleashed upon the land were sorted out.

A line of footprints led away from the front door. Vhalla struggled through the deep snowdrifts on her short legs. She followed the tracks up a short ridge toward a sitting figure looking over the small quick-moving stream that the Charems used as their primary source of water.

The Emperor of Solaris sat as still as a statue. He was cut from midnight shadows and moonlight. The light dusting of snow looked like stars upon a night sky against the dark blanket over his shoulders. His skin was carved from alabaster, not even reddening by the cold. Vhalla wondered if a man with fire in his veins even felt the chill as she did.

She eased down next to him, their sides touching. She followed his line of sight, trying to see what so captivated his attention beyond the early morning’s horizon. She slowly took his hand in hers, lacing her fingers against his.

There was no lightning to his touch now, only heat. But even without the Bond, she knew how his mind worked. She felt his emotions like a phantom limb—a hollow and strange sensation of what should be there, of what her heart knew was there, but wasn’t. Vhalla finally drew her eyes to study his profile.

She had yet to find words to say to him. After the group’s proclamation that he was their true Emperor, he had announced that he was retiring early. Vhalla had gone with him, letting him