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The Witch’s Storm The Witch of Luna Hill ~ Part two ~

Neel Kay

1 Merian Merian couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She was convinced that if she looked away, or even so much as blinked, that someone would rush over and touch him before she could warn him. So she clung to the bars of the railing and stared so intensely at Kord that her eyes began to hurt. She knew she was being irrational and, when she almost passed out from holding her breath, she leaned her forehead against the railing and allowed herself a short break by closing her aching eyes. “This is stupid,” she whispered to herself. They were all aware of Kord’s curse. They all knew that they couldn’t touch him or he’d keel over in pain and possibly even die. They made sure not to get too close to him, and Kord kept in the background, keeping clear of any physical human contact. Merian readjusted herself when her right leg started to fall asleep. With her left shoulder she leaned against the railing of the gallery above the knight’s hall. She had been hiding out here a lot these past two days since the arrival of the Niolans, peeping at them through the bars. They’d made the castle in Crescent Cove their headquarters, having been surprised to find it completely abandoned by greys upon their return. Even the dead ones had vanished into thin air. The missing greys were on the agenda down there in the hall, where it was the Bragies against the Niolans. They had yet to agree about one single thing. It was making Merian impatient, and Aia was about to blow up from irritation.

Aia had been down there yesterday. She’d argued heatedly with one of the Niolans, and she’d looked like she hated his guts. Ultimately, she had rushed out of the knight’s hall with such an outburst that it had made all the others go dead quiet for a couple of minutes. It wasn’t like Aia to behave in such a way. Kord left the window sill he’d been sitting on for a while now. With his arms crossed over his chest, he walked over to the next window and gazed out. Merian followed his every move. He didn’t seem all too affected by the whole ordeal, but he seemed to be having a hard time relaxing, his usual carefree appearance

replaced with a

sort of rigid watchfulness. “Have they still not agreed on anything?” Aia whispered right behind her. Merian jerked back, startled. To be perfectly honest, she hadn’t really paid that much attention to what was being said in the knight’s hall. All focus had been on Kord. “Um, no,” she whispered, remembering Lyder’s argumentative voice state over and over again that they were not sacrificing Aia under any circumstances. Aia sat down next to Merian and also looked through the bars. “Why don’t you like the Niolans?” Merian asked, as if she didn’t already know. She just wasn’t sure she ought to tell Aia. Maybe it was better if she remembered by herself? Besides, what Merian knew was hear-say; it might not even be true at all. But if it were, then Aia’s loathing of the Niolans was pretty damn deep, considering she didn’t even remember the reason. “They’re not exactly loveable, are they?” Aia sniffed, her voice chilly. “They just want to make sure Princess Tira is found,” Merian offered as a redeeming suggestion.

“Then maybe they shouldn’t be so eager to throw the one person who knows where she is to the dragons.” If what Merian had heard was true that might also be the reason why the Niolans had no problem sacrificing the great Freya Willand. “Do you remember anything?” Merian asked, thinking she should tell Aia what she knew, and soon too. “No.” Aia clenched her jaw and stared through the bars. Merian followed her gaze to the side of the refectory table where Lyder was standing, pounding his fist into the table and yelling something about this being Bragimark, not bloody Niola. Aia’s eyes were a mix of lucid admiration and uneasiness. It made Merian wonder if anything had been going on between her brother and Aia that she didn’t know about. “They’re taking a break,” Aia mumbled. “That, they can agree upon. I really don’t see why the Niolans should have a say in any of this.” “This is getting us nowhere,” they heard Roan Bell say with a heavy sigh. Merian shook her head and quickly scanned the room in search of Kord. He was on his way out. She got up, hurried across the gallery, and practically flew down the stairs. She pushed through a small group of Niolans and hurried after Kord who was already far ahead, walking briskly down the corridor towards the main hall. Merian felt an almost desperate feeling clutch her chest, as if all her insides were going to burst if she didn’t catch up with him, so she ran as fast as she could and only just managed to see him disappear out of the giant main double doors. “Kord,” she yelled as she reached the top of the granite stone steps leading down to the oblong courtyard within the castle walls.

Her voice made him jump and come to an abrupt halt. “Damn it, Merian,” he said, turning halfway around to look up at her. “Don’t sneak up on me like that. You’ll give me a heart attack.” “I wasn’t going to touch you, I promise.” He pulled a face and then walked slowly on while groaning. “I hate that you say that. Hate that you have to say that.” Merian took his slow stride as an invitation to tag along, so she hurried down the stairs and soon caught up with him. “You look flushed,” he said, shooting her a sideways glance. “Well, you were walking really fast. It was hard to keep up,” she explained and glanced down at his hand hanging rather carelessly down his side under that broad leather cuff with the roughly stitchedon suede star. She wanted so badly to slip her own hand into his, their fingers intertwined. How she wanted to pull him into her and nuzzle the back of his neck and kiss those lips. She gasped at her own thoughts. It made Kord fold his arms across his chest. “I wasn’t going to,” she mumbled, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I know. It’s all just making me a little paranoid.” They turned left and walked through a short tunnel that led through to the garden. The abundance of roses was a sorry sight, the flowers all starting to wither and die. “Have you figured out what to do? I mean with the Niolans?” Merian asked. Kord shook his head. “We’re wildly disagreeing on everything. We’ll probably all just end up being squashed to death by that goddamn black veil before reaching a consensus.” Kord glanced at her quickly, before squaring his shoulders. “I’m sorry. This whole curse seems to have made me a raging pessimist.” Merian forced a smile. Her fingers were itching to get a hold of Parmona. How she would love to slowly torture her to death for

breaking Kord; although, Parmona would probably just make a flick of her wrist and Merian’s neck would be broken. “At least she didn’t kill you,” she said in a low voice. “No, I suppose that’s the upside.” In the garden they found themselves standing in front of the entrance to the old labyrinth. The birch bushes were still mainly deep green, but they had started to droop, and the rim of the leaves had started to whither slightly. It had only been two days since Parmona had covered Bragimark under a dark veil, turning day to twilight and night into complete darkness, but the vegetation was already suffering. There were glowing stones placed by each side of the entrance to the labyrinth. The small lights in the semi-darkness lifted Merian’s spirit a bit. “Let’s go in,” she suggested, getting slightly giddy from the idea. But Kord looked doubtful. “I have to be back soon,” he said dismissively. “I know the way through. It won’t take long.” He looked at her with an amused expression on his face, but for the blink of a moment, his eyes looked weary. Then he chuckled. “Alright,” he said. Merian had been to the castle in Crescent Cove with her father once when she was little. Evalina, who had then been just a teenage princess, had taken her on a tour of the garden, including the very famous labyrinth. Merian’s mother had demanded she wore a dress to go see the royal family, but running wildly through the labyrinth with the princess, both barefoot, with the wind blowing in their skirts had felt so incredibly liberating that Merian actually hadn’t cared too much about being restricted by a dress. She had accidentally torn it when she’d climbed the red wooden tower in the middle of the labyrinth. Evalina’s beautiful black hair had been shaken loose and

was a wild mess, while her fair skin blushed from the excitement and the exercise. “How do you know the way?” Kord asked as they turned down the first left. “Have you been here before?” “Once,” Merian said and told him the story of her and the crown princess. “Your dress ripped?” Kord smiled savagely. Merian rolled her eyes at him, but couldn’t stifle a smile. “I was nine.” “Right.” He coughed and chuckled. “I remember my father looking absolutely horrified by the look of me. But I’m sure it was mostly the notion of having to deal with my mother as she was bound to see the state of the dress once we got back home.” “You miss him, don’t you?” “Of course I do.” She let her fingers pass over the leaves as they turned to the right and then immediately another right. Kord followed two steps behind her, his hands folded behind his back. “I’m going to mend you,” Merian promised. “And how will you do that?” “I’ll get Aia to help. Or Freya. It’s a little confusing with the name. At least it rhymes,” she said, the part about the name mostly directed towards herself. “But there has to be a way to unbind her powers. Freya Willand used to be a very powerful witch. She can remove the spell if anyone can. I’m thinking that Vigga might be able to help her to unbind her powers, or maybe Vigga’s spirit guides know how. In any case, I think it’s worth a try.” “But Vigga is over a day's ride away. What about some of the witches here in the resistance? Can’t they help?”

“You heard Sera. Freya is too much for them to handle. All of these self-proclaimed witches have no real powers; they just live in harmony with nature and fiddle with herbs and remedies.” Merian shook her head. “No, I think we need to go to Vigga. Aia and I could go. You don’t really need us here anyway. Besides, Aia is just spending her time hating on the Niolans and they in return just want to get rid of her.” Merian looked over her shoulder. Kord was watching her every move. She felt a jolt of electricity surge through her body. Quickly, she turned her head around again, hiding her blushing cheeks from him. Her fingers were tingling with the urge to touch him. “I suppose it would be worth a try,” Kord admitted back there in the semi-darkness. “But do you think it’s safe for the two of you to travel alone?” “Sure, why not? We’ve done it before.” “Yes, and fell victim to a brutal gang, remember?” She could hear the banter in his voice. It was good to know that he wasn’t entirely broken. “I think we’ll manage.” Merian threw him a wry smile. “Be careful, though. I don’t like how all the greys suddenly disappeared just like that. There’s something going on.” “Which is why the sooner we get Aia’s powers back the better.” But he was right about the greys. The only thing that reminded them that they were dealing with a powerful enemy was the dark veil across the sky. It felt like the quiet before the storm, and they had to prepare themselves - not sit around all day, wasting time arguing about war strategies. “I’m confident that Aia is the key, and that she can solve this. She can beat Parmona if she gets her powers back. Between her magic and Professor Dane’s weapon, Parmona doesn’t stand a chance.” She

made a right turn and then a left, skipping the first right and then going down the second. Merian was amazed that she still remembered the route so clearly. “Lyder is not too keen on sending Aia into the dragon’s lair wherever that is.” “But he seemed so confident that Aia would get her powers back. How else can we fight Parmona?” “That was before he realised just how dangerous Parmona is. And the Niolans are practically ready to sacrifice Aia completely, and that wasn’t his intention. Between you and me, I think he’s sweet on the girl.” “Really? Why would you think that?” Again, she looked back over her shoulder. She knew it! She knew something had been going on between them. Kord shrugged. “Just a feeling. We’re old friends,” he said as if that somehow explained everything. “Here it is,” Merian exclaimed as they reached the middle of the labyrinth. She skipped up the squeaky stairs leading up to the red wooden tower overlooking the garden and the castle, and if she stood on her toes she could just about see the strait between Bragimark and Niola. Small glowing rocks were hanging like garlands adorning the ceiling of the tower. “It’s nice here,” Kord commented looking around. “Nice view. Now I just need you in a slightly ripped dress, with your hair wild and undone and your cheeks blushing.” Merian turned around, her arms resting casually on the railing, making her chest stand out. She smiled. “And what would you do then?” “Die a happy man,” he grinned and walked over to her. Panic quickly replaced the warm tingling feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her entire body stiffened as she pressed her back against

the railing. She didn’t have time to avoid him. Kord had covered the distance between them in mere seconds, and now he stood as close to her as it was physically possible without actually touching. “Kord, please don’t.” She could feel his breath on her face, his scent filled her nostrils and his body heat radiated towards her. “I don’t want to be the reason you die. Please, don’t touch me.” “Who’s touching?” he whispered, his eyes demanding her attention as he looked at her with such intensity that she couldn’t help but let out a little moan. Merian bit her lip and looked down, embarrassed of her reaction. “No, look at me, Merian.” “I can’t,” she whispered. “Why not?” “It makes me want to kiss you.” Her lips were actually aching for the longing of Kord’s kisses. She had to bite the treacherous bastards hard to stop them from puckering. “Please, look at me.” How could he play with his own life this way? Merian was terrified she might brush against him and cause him so much pain and agony that death would feel like a relief. All she moved were her eyeballs as she looked up at him from under her brow. “I love you,” he said with an insistent stare. “I will make you my wife after this bloody war, even if you do claim you want to rebel against your mother’s wishes. And I will be able to touch you again.” Merian couldn’t help but smile wide, and her chest was about to burst from a mixture of sheer happiness and excruciating longing.

“Kord? What the hell?” Lyder’s voice made Kord pull back, and as soon as he was out of reach, Merian turned and saw her brother looking up at them from just outside the labyrinth. “What?” Kord exclaimed, making his way towards the stairs leading out of the labyrinth. “You are wanted back inside, that’s what. There are more important things at hand than romancing my sister.” Merian couldn’t move. She felt like glued to the spot as she, short of breath, watched Kord descend to Lyder’s level. As he passed him he stopped briefly, looked at him and said: “There’s nothing more important than Merian.” And then he walked on. Lyder glared after him, and then turned and shot a glance in Merian’s direction. Her mouth was hanging open with a slow smile spreading across her face. “Ooh,” Lyder mouthed and winked at her. Merian pulled a face, instantly turning into Lyder’s obnoxious little sister. “Shut up!”

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The Witch's Storm - reading sample / læseprøve  
The Witch's Storm - reading sample / læseprøve