Home > A Fire Endless (Elements of Cadence #2)

A Fire Endless (Elements of Cadence #2)
Author: Rebecca Ross

 

 

Prologue

 


Once, Kae had carried thousands of words in her hands. As a spirit of the wind, she had reveled in the power of it—to cradle things that were both fragile and sharp—and it had always been a delight when she chose to release them. To feel the timbres and textures of those many voices, from deep to airy, from melodious to rough-hewn. Once, she had let gossip and news melt through her fingers and unspool across the hills of Cadence, watching how humankind reacted when they caught the words either like hail or like thistledown.

It had never failed to amuse her.

But that had been when she was younger, hungrier, and uncertain of herself. When the older spirits had relished biting the edges of her wings to make them tattered and weak, eager to override her routes. King Bane had not yet appointed her as his favored messenger, even with frayed wings and mortal voices as her closest companions. Kae could only fully appreciate that simpler era now as she glided over Eastern Cadence, reminiscing.

There had come a moment when things started to shift. A moment that Kae could pinpoint in retrospect, realizing it was a seam in her existence.

Lorna Tamerlaine and her music.

She had never sung for the spirits of the air, although Kae often watched from the shadows as the bard called to the sea, to the earth. Kae had at first been relieved Lorna didn’t summon the winds, and yet how often the spirit still yearned for it. To know Lorna’s notes were crafted just for her and to feel them thrum in her bones.

That was the moment Kae had ceased carrying words and delivering them elsewhere. Because she knew what Bane would have done to Lorna had he realized what she was doing, playing for earth and water, garnering approval and admiration from those spirits.

And Kae, who had been spun into existence by a stormy northern wind, who had once laughed at gossip and let her wings howl over the crofts of Cadence, had felt her heart splinter when Lorna had died far too young.

She flew over the eastern side of the isle now, admiring the summits and valleys, the gleaming faces of lochs and the trickling paths of rivers. Smoke rose from cottage chimneys, gardens teemed with summer fruit, and flocks of sheep grazed on hillsides. Kae was nearing the clan line when the pressure in the air drastically changed.

Her wings trembled in response, her indigo hair tangling across her face. It was an act to make her cower and cringe, and she knew the king was summoning her. She was late in returning to make her report, and he was impatient.

With a sigh, Kae flew upwards.

She left behind the tapestry of Cadence and cut through layers of clouds, watching light fade into endless darkness. She could feel time freeze around her; there was no day, no hour here in the hall of the wind. It was preserved amongst the constellations. The sensation had once been jarring to Kae: to observe time flowing so unhindered amongst the humans on the isle and then leave it behind like a moth-eaten cloak.

Remember your purpose, Kae thought sharply as the last second of mortal time cracked and fell from her wings like ice.

She needed to prepare herself for this meeting, because Bane was going to ask about Jack Tamerlaine.

She reached the gardens, suppressing a flurry of fear, a pang of resistance. The king would sense them in her, and she couldn’t afford his ire. She took her time breathing and walking through rows of flowers spun from frost and snow, her wings tucked close against her back. They were reminiscent of the wings of a dragonfly, and their color was hers alone—the shade of sunset surrendering into night. A dusky mauve lined with quicksilver veins. They caught the radiance of the stars burning in the braziers as she continued to move toward the hall.

Lightning flickered through the clouds beneath her feet. Kae felt the sting of it through her soles, and she fought the urge to cower again. She hated how reflexive it was after years of feeling the light and lash of his disapproval.

He was angry, then, for having to wait on her.

Kae shivered, bracing herself as she walked amongst the pillars of the hall. The entire flaxen-haired court had already gathered, wings tucked in submission. They observed her approach—older spirits who had once taught her how to fly and who had also shredded her wings. Younger spirits who looked at her with both fear and awe, aspiring to take her place as messenger. The weight of their eyes and their silence made it difficult to breathe as Kae approached the king.

Bane watched her come, his eyes like embers, his expression so still it could have been carved from limestone. His blood-red wings were spread outward in a show of authority, and a lance was in his hand, illuminated by lightning.

Kae knelt before the northern wind because she had no other choice. But she wondered: When will be the last time I bend a knee to you?

“Kae,” Bane said, drawing her name out with feigned patience. “Why have you kept me waiting?”

She thought of numerous answers, all of them hinged on truth. Because I loathe you. Because I am no longer your servant. Because I am finished with your orders.

But she said, “Forgive me, my king. I should have come sooner.”

“What news of the bard?” he asked. And while he tried to sound languid, Kae heard the hitch in his voice. Jack Tamerlaine made the king incredibly paranoid.

Kae straightened. The silver web of her armor chimed as she moved.

“He is languishing,” she replied, thinking of how she had left Jack, kneeling in the weaver’s kail yard, staring at the loam in his hands.

“And does he play? Does he sing?”

Kae knew her kind couldn’t lie. It made answering Bane a challenge, but ever since Lorna . . . Kae had become good at deflecting him.

“His sorrow seems to weigh him down,” she said, which was truth. Ever since Adaira left, Jack had been a mere shadow of himself. “He doesn’t want to play.”

Bane was quiet.

Kae held her breath as whispers began to spin in the hall. She resisted the temptation to glance over her shoulder, to look at her kindred.

“This bard appears to be weak, just as the orchard showed us,” she started to say but cut her words short when Bane stood. His long shadow rippled down the dais stairs, touching Kae with a shock of cold.

“He appears to be weak, you say,” the king echoed. “And yet he has summoned us all. He dares to play in the open. I was merciful to him, was I not? Over and over I have given him time to amend his ways and set aside his music. But he refuses, which leaves me no choice but to punish him further.”

Kae shut her mouth, her pointed teeth clinking together. Lorna had been a shrewd musician; she had learned from the Bard of the East before her, who had also been mindful of Bane and the spirit realm and had played for decades unscathed. But Jack had been given no such opportunity, Lorna having died before he returned to Cadence. Sometimes Kae watched him, as she was ordered to do of late, and she wanted nothing more than to materialize and tell him—

“I want you to carry a message to Whin of the Wildflowers,” Bane said, catching Kae by surprise.

“What message, my king?”

“That she is to curse the weaver’s kail yard.”

Kae exhaled, but a chill traced her spine. “Mirin Tamerlaine’s garden?”

“Yes. The one that feeds this bard. Whin is to ensure that all crops, all fruit, all sustenance withers at once and remains dormant until I say they can grow again. And that goes for any other garden that tries to feed him. If it is every eastern kail yard, then so be it. Let famine come. It would not hurt the mortals to suffer at the expense of the bard.”

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