Of Darkness and Fire by Amber Palmer

1

EVA

You won’t make it. You’re going to be too late.

The voices in my head continued to torment and taunt me as I raced through the gilded halls of the palace. My home. I slipped around the corner of a corridor, chancing a glance briefly at the sentries standing guard by an archway. They reached out for me, tried to stop me, but their shouts fell on deaf ears; I didn’t have time to stop and explain. I was racing against an invisible clock, counting down the seconds until my life was altered. Changed so irrevocably, I didn’t know how I would move on.

Their footsteps echoed off of the stone walls behind me. My heart was racing, aching as I pushed myself further, harder than I ever had before. Decades of training should have prepared me for this type of situation, but I was royally fucked. No amount of killing or training could prepare me for this. The cost of my failure would be far too great if I didn’t make it in time. Dark corridors seemed to stretch on indefinitely, drifting into a never-ending time loop.

The screams of my people rang off the palace walls. Pure, unbridled chaos from the world outside these walls continued to reign around me. Helia was under attack. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it from happening. They were here, The Horde, and they delighted in the torturing of my people. I was a simple fool to believe we could’ve stopped this from happening. My heart seemed to fracture. One particular scream sounded out above the rest into the chilly night air, the only one that mattered in this moment.

No. No. No.

My head was pounding, aching as my magic coiled underneath the surface of my skin. It begged to be set free, physically hurting me to keep it restrained. But I required every single last drop to do what I needed to do.

The door to the throne room came into view as I rounded the last corner. The golden archway contorting into tight vines above the entry. I kicked open the doors, my breathing erratic as I took in the scene in front of me. My mother lay in the middle of the room. Her body broken and battered, but her face masked in a steely defiance. She was beautiful, even as she lay before me. A masked assailant was the only force holding her body up, one hand solidly gripping her hair. My eyes frantically searched my mother’s, instantly realizing my worst fears were coming to fruition. She had accepted her fate. I was too late. She lifted her neck, meeting my gaze, and I nearly gasped. Her eyes were blazing, two beacons calling to me on the darkest of nights. They held within them the promise to guide and haunt me until the end of my days.

“I love you, sweet girl. Never stop fighting,” she whispered to me, right as a blade plunged into her chest and pierced her heart.

I woke up with a start. My scream echoing through the chill evening air, ringing back to me off the walls of my bedroom. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes, regardless of how much I wanted to. All I could see was the image of my mother’s dying body, forever burned into the deepest pits of my mind. A nightmare that played on repeat nearly every damn night.

Not real, it’s not real. At least… not anymore.

I tried to steady my breathing, inhaling through my nose and out of my mouth, but it didn’t stop the pure panic that was steadily rising inside of me. Warm hands wrapped around my arms, the scent of an ocean breeze washing over me.

“Eva! Eva, look at me. Open your eyes!” But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t. I was held in some sort of trance with my mother’s last words ringing in my ears. The nightmare had taken ahold of me, consumed me in a way that hadn’t happened in so long. It felt so real, but it also felt… different. More like a warning.

Whoever grabbed ahold of my arms shook me, dominant and demanding. “Dammit Eva, please,” the voice growled. There was something laced within the voice that tugged at my soul, the pleading nature of it that made me want to obey. A calloused hand caressed my face, scraping the rough pad of a thumb across my cheekbones. The fight within me was gone. I needed the comforting touch this person offered to provide, so I leaned into it. Embracing the touch completely.

In my mind, I counted: One, two, three.

As a final shaky breath escaped my body, I opened my eyes. There wasn’t time to think, let alone process what was happening, before a hand snaked through my hair and a body crashed against mine.

“Are you alright? What happened?”

It was a nightmare; always the same one that forced me to relive the worst night of my life. A memory that would forever haunt me, regardless of the time that passed. Hell, it’d already been damn near 100 years since that night, and yet it remained. Clear as fucking day. I’d been powerless to stop it, even though I held more power in my veins than most people ever dreamed of possessing. Everything about me was power incarnate.

I was considered an elemental - a type of Fae that held an extremely rare connection with and control over fire, earth, wind, and water. Most of us had either been phased out by centuries of breeding, causing family lines to become weak and diluted. Or we were hunted and killed. Regardless, there weren’t many of us left. The fact I was an elemental came as a massive shock. Even considered a blessing from the gods, seeing as neither of my parents held the gift. Though they were powerful in their own right.

“Eva, look at me.” The voice brought me back as I was reminded of the presence currently crushing my body against their own. Damien. My eyes scanned along the ripples of a taut male torso, etched into perfectly glowing olive skin. Deep-set eyes as blue as the ocean stared back at me under thick lashes, into the depths of my soul. My breathing hitched as he closed his eyes, just for a moment, sighing with relief that I was okay. His light brown curly hair seemed darker in the dim moonlight and fell into his eyes. It was unruly, always had been since we were children, but I’d always found the way it was so perfectly imperfect to be endearing. Though tonight, he almost seemed disheveled, as if he had broken down the door to save me.

“I’m fine,” I responded, waving him off. Weak and lying; that’s what I really was. There weren’t many days the word ‘fine’ was ever an accurate representation of what I was feeling. I didn’t have an option to be anything else, though. I was the heir to a kingdom. I wasn’t allowed to have bad days. “I’m fine.”

The man rocked back on his heels as he scanned my face and then my body, checking to make sure that I was indeed unharmed. My body came alive under his gaze. The flames underneath my skin, begging to consume me.

“You’re not fine. I know you better than that,” he hesitated. “Did you dream about… about the night your mother…”

I froze. A beat of tension filled the air. “Don’t. Don’t you dare finish that sentence. I said I was fine, and I fucking meant it, Damien.”

Push me on this, tell me I’m wrong. I was ready and primed for a fight I knew wouldn’t come. He wouldn’t push me. He’s too moral and good. Hell, he’s the best person I know. That’s saying a lot, seeing as I’ve lived for well over three hundred years.

I pulled myself out of bed and walked to the open balcony located directly off of my bedroom. It was unseasonably cold, given the time of year. Spring was a cataclysmic season, tasked with bringing the warmth back to our lands after a suspiciously harsh winter. I hesitated for only a moment, my body reacting to the cold air that seeped through my thin nightdress. The cold sensation traveling lightly along my skin, caressing me like an old friend. It’d be effortless to heat my body with the power within, but I wanted to feel the keen sting of the cold. I deserved a harsher punishment than this, anyway.

And how dare he bring up my mother? The one person who knows exactly what I went through, what I continue to go through, with each passing day. He must have had a death wish, and I was almost willing to oblige him on his request.

My hands reached out in front of me as I leaned against the railing of the balcony, staring out into the dark oblivion before me. The faint outline of Helia, my home and my kingdom, glistened against the night sky as far as I could see. If anyone else took a glimpse below at the capital city, they would think it was asleep, but I knew better. No one ever slept, not really. It’s why we were the strongest kingdom in Aethion. It takes a damn miracle to keep this place running day by day. From bakers to soldiers to little kids on the street, everyone had a part to play. In every town, every village, every major city. Our palace set on the edge of the capital, with a courtyard that connected the two. My rooms were high enough that you could barely see the people in the streets, but if you looked hard enough, they were there. Working harder than half the people I knew in the royal courts. I owed everything to them. My entire family did. Without them? There would be no land to rule, no people to govern. This is the land that my mother died to protect, that I was set to inherit even though I was unworthy. A tear formed and threatened to fall, but I brushed it away before it stood a chance.

Tentative steps fell against the marble flooring leading from my bedroom as Damien slid up to the railing beside me. Neither of us spoke for a moment, wrapped in a comfortable bubble of silence. Sometimes being in his company was easy, and this was one of those rare moments I was thankful it was him that broke down the door and not someone else. Anyone else would have left me alone, and that’s the thing… No matter what I might say, I didn’t want to be alone. No one wanted that.

“I’m sorry. It was selfish, and I wasn’t thinking…” He began.

I briefly turned my head, so his face came into view. “No, you weren’t, were you?”

His stare flickered with cool indifference before sliding into a perfect mask of understanding. The moonlight reflected out of his bright blue eyes as I turned away from him. I’d lost myself in those eyes more times than I can count in the past, and I couldn’t afford to do that right now.

Damien Carnell had always been the one person I’d felt closest to in my everlasting life. Someone that pushed me through countless training routines and turned around to console me on nights when the nightmares came back to haunt me. He knew better than most what I’d gone through. He was the only one that dared to approach me on that fateful night after the sentries had caught up to me. After they found me curled in a pool of my mother’s blood, holding her limp body, screaming to the gods to bring her back. He held me, rocked me steadily back and forth, until I could breathe again. I didn’t know how long I remained in his arms. Time seemed to stop. All I remembered is how he wouldn’t leave me, not for one moment.

He broke me out of my reverie as he took my hand in his own, softly stroking the skin above my pulse. I could feel his magic calling to me instantly as my heart slowed down and the panic faded away. I snatched my hand back, cursing under my breath.

“Stop that. You know I hate it when you do that shit.” I stared at him sternly as he gave me that quirky, cocky smile that had a tendency to render me speechless. By the gods, I couldn’t stay mad at him when he looked at me like that and he knew it.

It was the ultimate weakness.

While Damien was a skilled warrior, he was also an extraordinarily gifted healer. One of the best in the kingdom, actually. It wasn’t typical that healers were also soldiers, but he’d be the first to tell you it came in handy to have an affinity for both crafts, especially when you were on a battlefield. Even if it meant healing yourself, it could save your life. He could take away someone’s anxiety with the brush of his fingertips, something he knew I hated when he did it to me. Because I wanted to feel everything life threw at me; the good, the bad, and the exceptionally ugly.

“I’m glad that through all the awful shit you’ve experienced in your life, you’ve never lost your… sass.” His eyes traveled the length of my body and I heated under his gaze. I felt his hand wrap around my waist as he pulled my body close. It was inevitable. We already knew how this moment would end from the moment he showed up in my bed. It might as well have been written in the fucking stars. I should send him away and tell him to leave me be. I still could… But I wouldn’t. He had the capability of creating a particular craving in my soul, a distraction that his body promised to mine every damn time. These moments with him? They were the only time I didn’t feel the burning heat of rage that’s with me every single day. It was a reprieve. So I gave in.

I always fucking gave in.

His fingertips traced along the muscles in my arms to the nape of my neck where he paused - as if waiting for me to tell him to stop, but there was no going back now. I didn’t have the strength to turn him away, nor did I want to. No, I wanted to feel every bit of pleasure he offered. To take away the pain, even if only for an evening.

He gently fisted my hair and gave it a slight tug, tipping my head back. Our eyes met, and his seemed to glow with immense satisfaction. He knew what I wanted, what I might have been too shy to speak out loud. My lips parted of their own instinct, my tongue dancing lightly over my lower lip. We did this every time, but this time? We didn’t hesitate as our bodies collided with one another greedily.

One hand stayed in my hair while his other drifted down to my waist and crushed me further into him. I gasped, and his lips curved upwards into a wicked smile. His hand drifted lower to the short hem of my nightdress, itching to touch my bare skin underneath.

“Damien,” I moaned. “Don’t tease me.” His lips left my mouth instantly to graze the skin just beneath my ear.

He nipped my earlobe softly and inhaled my scent. “It would seem that you like my teasing. Dare I say you enjoy it?” He whispered. I growled in frustration, but he knew just where to plant his lips on my neck for that frustration to turn into something wilder and more frantic. My hands were in a rush to pull his shirt from his body. I wanted to touch him, needed to feel him beneath me. I grazed his abdomen, and he flinched under my touch. “Fuck! Your hands are freezing, Eva.”

A smile danced on my lips. “Well, then it’s a good thing that I didn’t touch your co-” But my words were silenced as his lips crashed into mine once more. It was a hungrier kiss than before, almost as if it might be our last.

He spun me around, facing out to the darkness in the sky. I was bared to my kingdom, my birthright. His body pinned mine against the railing as he dragged one hand to my throat, the other palming my stomach. The way his lips tortured me, ravenous on my neck, nearly had me coming undone. I pushed back against him, feeling his hardness aching for me like I was for him.

“Do you feel what you do to me, Eva? Do you feel how hard you make me? I want to bury myself in you and never come back.” I pushed back harder at his words, sliding my ass against his thick member.

I felt a breeze beneath my nightdress as his hand finally slipped underneath, searching for my core frantically. His hand dipped between my legs, and I let my head fall back against his shoulder in pleasure.

“Shit, Eva. You’re perfection,” he groaned. Fingers caressed my core, teasing me as they drifted along my clit. His touch felt like ice on my skin. It left my body cold and craving warmth. His warmth. I angled myself to give him better access, and just as his finger dipped inside me, a cough from the doorway stopped both of us in our tracks.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Damien, but your father…” Damien growled as we disentangled ourselves. I peered at the figure standing under the dark archway, both cursing and blessing him at the same time. They came forward, out of the darkness and I saw his face beneath the moonlight. Luka’s red hair shone brightly, the color of a bold flame even in the dim lighting of my bedroom. I could feel his dark golden eyes as they scanned over us, scrutinizing the closeness of our bodies and labored breathing. No doubt sensing what had been so close to taking place, the arousal lingering in the air.

“Surely, whatever my father wants could not possibly be so important that you had to interrupt us, Luka?” Damien looked at us, torn between his friendship and his lover. I knew Luka wouldn’t have interrupted without a damn good reason, but the sexual frustration I was feeling left little room for understanding.

Luka Eryx was Damien’s best friend and personal sentry; where one went, the other was always close behind. He was friendly enough, and I enjoyed his company, mostly. I didn’t mind when he accompanied us. Sometimes, he was downright enjoyable to be around. But that was only when we were all under the influence of Fae wine and, well… everyone was enjoyable while basking in that particular refreshment.

When we were children, I would’ve even considered myself jealous of Luka and Damien’s companionship. The two men were blood sworn to each other, like many other Fae nobility and their sentries often were. It ensured an unshakable amount of loyalty to one another and kept those who were considered important to the kingdom safe. The bond they shared was more intense than friendship; something akin to being brothers, and it was completely unavoidable.

“With all due respect, I thought you’d want to know that he was on his way back from Angoria. He will be back at the palace before the sun rises. I know how…” Luka paused for a moment, making eye contact with me before straightening his back. “Lengthy your conferences with Evalyne can be.” His voice dripped with disdain. I’d had to be a fool to ignore the fact Luka despised my relationship with Damien, and there were times I might even agree with him. But tonight? Oh, tonight is not one of those times.

My back straightened at the use of my full name. I fucking hated it when people used it. My father didn’t even use my full name. The only time it ever came up was during court announcements, and that was fine. Completely unavoidable, even. Damien smirked, knowing how much it always pissed me off. His hand drew lazy circles on my back, the barest contact of our skin sending calming vibes rippling through my body. “I’ll gladly take your compliment on my physical stamina,” Damian drawled.

I already knew Damien was using his contact with my skin to keep me calm, but I was in no mood to entertain tonight, nor would I allow Luka to yank Damien away from me. I needed this. I needed a distraction from all the fucked up shit that haunted me.

With the flick of my fingers, a gust of wind whirled past us and pushed Luka out of the room against his protests. Before the door slammed in his face, I called after him. “I swear to all the gods of this land that if you barge into my bedroom and interrupt a conference again,” my voice putting the same edge on the word that he had used, “that gust of wind will push you off the balcony rather than out the door.”

Damien chuckled softly before adding, “Sorry, Luka! I’ll come to find you soon.”

With that, the door slammed and locked tight. I turned around to face Damien, drawing him in close for a lingering kiss. “Now, where were we?”