Ethereal Entanglements (4 page)

BOOK: Ethereal Entanglements
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When Claire looked back for Leeloo, she saw the other dragon had stopped at the edge of the stone. Claire waved for the Leeloo to join them. To Claire’s surprise, Leeloo hung her head and slumped to the floor.

Enion skimmed over the roof and they saw only stone with no shiny buttons or obvious levers or gaping maws. They flew back into the building and landed beside Leeloo.

“No follow?” Enion listened to Leeloo’s miserable chirping and explained. “She can’t leave building. Tried many times. No leave.”

“Huh.” Claire drummed her fingers on her leg. “The Knight thing to do would be to destroy the building, but that sounds like an awful lot of work. Besides, we’re not doing the Knight thing here. I wonder if she’s got a magic tether binding her here like when we found you? Justin was able to figure that out.”

She had no idea what he’d done there because he’d sent her off to “keep watch.” Thinking back, she did remember him jerking his sword out of the ground, so he’d stabbed the dirt to fix it. But before he did that, he must’ve seen something to stab. He wouldn’t just shove his sword in the dirt randomly, hoping that would work.

“Hey. Before I actually became a Knight, Justin and his sprite did a thing together and he was able to see that my locket was connected to the Palace and that it was the reason I’m a Knight.” She really needed a mentor’s help right now. Rondy, the elder Knight who died trying to help her convince Caius to fix the locket, would know what to do. He could explain things ten times better than anyone else she’d met since her parents died.

And she’d killed him. Sort of. Claire rubbed her face, too tired to deal with this right now. She’d made her peace with his memory on the MAX blue line two days ago, more or less. Maybe if she could apologize to him ten times a day, they’d be even.

“Rondy, I could really use your help,” she mumbled.

“Claire, all you ever have to do is ask and I’ll be here for you.”

Chapter 5

Claire

 

Claire stared at Rondy, unable to come up with anything intelligent to say. That encounter with Rondy’s ghost—or whatever it was—on the light rail had been real, she knew that from what he’d said. Then he’d showed up to help her kill the corrupted Phasm, and she figured he’d fulfilled his purpose.

The ghost of the Jamaican Knight stood a few feet away in full color, his apparent age in his mid-twenties. He’d bound his black dreadlocks at the nape of his neck and wore plate armor with a golden sheen, a gold-hilted sword on a golden belt, and white clothing underneath. Two clasps on his shoulders, each a gold X with green and black filling to make them rectangles, held a blazing white cloak edged with gold. The contrast with his dark skin made him more striking than she remembered.

Rondy chuckled. “It’s nice to see you too.”

She jumped off Enion’s back to hug Rondy and still couldn’t speak. Even if she could find words, she knew her voice would crack and she’d cry again. This place definitely played dirty. He held her close, his chin resting on her head. Warmth from his body surrounded her and felt so real.

“I see we’re in an Ordeal, and I expect it’s about my death, so it’s only fitting I help you with it. What’s the task at hand?”

“Free Leeloo!” Enion chirped.

“He can’t understand you,” Claire managed to say through sniffles.

“Actually, I can. How interesting. Why are we freeing a dragon? That doesn’t sound like the kind of proper Knight behavior needed to get through an Ordeal.”

“I don’t care,” Claire sulked.

“Ah. We’re doing the right thing not the Knight thing. Do you have an idea you don’t know how to put into practice, or are we brainstorming?”

Claire pulled away and studied his face, wary of mocking or sarcasm. He smiled at her and seemed genuine. She wiped her face and took a chance. “I need to know how to see magic stuff.”

“Yes, you do. That’s essential for every Knight. It’s much more difficult to destroy harmful magics when you can’t see them.” He clucked his tongue. “We’ll hold off on calling out Justin for falling down on the job of being your mentor, I think. It’s unusual for a Knight’s career to begin as eventfully as yours has, and other Knights are supposed to help. The fact you’re in an Ordeal speaks volumes about how much support you and Justin can expect.”

He squeezed her shoulder. “I’m here for you, though. The trick is to identify the bond between yourself and Enion. Once you manage that, it’s a matter of doing the Knight thing. That is, focusing on what you want. In this case, what you want to
see
. If it’s there, you’ll see it. If not, you’ll wander around and fall into a hole you didn’t notice because you weren’t looking for that.”

For several long seconds, Claire stared at Rondy, unable to tell if he meant that as a joke or not.

“Bond?”

Enion’s honest question shook Claire out of her near-stupor. “How do I find it? I didn’t think it was a thing like that?”

Rondy grinned. “You’re bound to him, soul to soul. In a sense, it’s like a piece of string anchored by the two of you. Turn your attention inward and find the string.”

“That sounds like touchy-feely hippie crap,” Claire grumbled.

“It is. Do it anyway.”

Claire huffed and sat on the floor. Enion curled his front legs and neck around her. She closed her eyes and had no idea how to turn her attention inward. That sounded suspiciously like when the school principal asked her to ponder her misdeeds.

“You’re scowling, Claire. And your shoulders are tense. Breathe. Relax. Think about Enion.”

She followed his instructions, letting all the stupid Ordeal and Knights and Palace stuff fall away. The marble felt cool through her armor, and a light breeze drifted by. She sat with Enion, leaning against him. Her sprite. Her partner. She counted on him to be a dragon and he counted on her to be a Knight. No matter what happened, he’d be there. They’d been together only a few days, but they’d been tested in that time and come out stronger for it.

The locket in her chest warmed. She touched it through her armor and realized that was their bond. Enion was bound to the locket, which was, in turn, anchored to her heart. Caius had done that because she needed a heart to live as much as she needed the locket. The power of the Palace kept her going.

With Enion’s chest pressed to her back, she felt his heartbeat and focused on the rhythm. His didn’t quite match hers, but she wanted it to. If only the rhythms matched, things would make sense. Despite not knowing how she knew, she knew that was true.

“Breathe,” Rondy whispered. “Be a Knight.”

Claire breathed. She listened. In the distance, plucked strings twanged in dissonance, making her cringe. Without knowing why, she reached for it. Her fingers tapped out Enion’s heartbeat, making the discord worse. Though it made her uncomfortable, she remembered the mantra of the Knights and kept at it.

The mess of notes rose in volume. She clenched her jaws and kept going. When it drowned everything else out, she kept going. At the moment she thought her ears would explode, her heartbeat slipped slipped into rhythm with Enion’s and the noise disappeared. She felt like someone punched her in the chest with happiness. The sensation reminded her of when Justin asked to adopt her, times fifty billion. Opening her eyes, she looked up at Enion and couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, partner.”

“Partners.” Enion purred.

“Let’s find that tether.” Claire glanced to check with Rondy, but he wasn’t there. Though that disappointed her, she couldn’t be too upset. He said he’d come whenever she needed him. It meant he must be watching or listening like a guardian angel. No matter how alone she ever felt, he’d be there.

She rose to one knee and checked the whole room. Her gaze fell on Leeloo, a bright silver beacon in the shade of this annoying temple, and she saw a dull orange loop around the dragon’s hind leg. The line sank into the stone and out of sight.

“I see it!” Enion crept to Leeloo’s side and picked up her leg. He snapped his jaws around the tether. Nothing happened. When he opened his mouth again, the tether remained. It snapped out and wrapped around his neck. Enion squawked.

Claire rushed to them and pressed her blade against the line. As soon as she sliced through it, the two ends sought each other and melded again. She tried again and the same thing happened.

Clamping down on panic before it could shut her brain off, Claire sat and breathed. “That clearly doesn’t work. Which means there’s another way. The whole purpose of the weapon is to cut magicky things, so that’s not the part I’m doing wrong.”

Enion whimpered and covered his face with his foreclaws. “Stuck.”

“Knock it off. If I’m not allowed to panic, neither are you. Think. If this isn’t the part I cut, where would that part be?” Enion seemed far too embarrassed to be helpful. Claire paced to keep from looking at the two hopeless, helpless dragons slumped on the floor. “Never mind asking where it is, because I can’t see it from here. I need to think about where it
could
be. It’s not in the air. Leeloo could get all the way to the edge, so if it keeps her inside, it’s either in the middle as an anchor, or it’s around the edge. If it’s in the middle, I’ll have to stab a lot of rocks, but if it’s around the edge…”

She jogged to the end of the building and saw it. A dull orange line hugged the outside edge of the stone. To be sure, she followed it, running a full circuit of the building. The line wrapped around the marble slab, unbroken. Pleased with herself for figuring it out, she crouched and stabbed the line, causing it to break and snap away like a rubber band.

Light wind blew out from the release, ruffling her hair. Behind her, two dragons screeched with joy. She grinned and let them bowl her over as they both leaped out of the building. Enion and Leeloo caught her by the arms and swung her up into the air. Enion darted under her and she landed with a laugh.

They flew up together and soared over the countryside, Claire feeling the sweet joy of success. After a few minutes, though, she couldn’t help noticing they hadn’t come out of the Ordeal yet. Defeating a dragon had a ring to it like a Knight’s penultimate task.

“Leeloo, what usually happens when the Knight kills you? Do they forge ahead and keep going or disappear?”

Enion continued translating Leeloo’s chirps. “She says disappear.”

“Why haven’t we returned to the Palace yet?”

Rather than answer, Enion slowed and aimed for a meadow full of wildflowers in every color imaginable. Leeloo landed beside them. He churned the dirt with his claws and held up a clump of rich, black earth. “Seems real.”

“Sure. But it’s not home. This is Caius’s version of Ancient Rome.”

Leeloo loosed a string of chirps and squawks. Enion rephrased Claire’s question and listened to the answer.

“She says try the catacombs.”

“Great. How do we find the catacombs?”

Chapter 6

Justin

 

Justin stood before his gnarled, leafless sycamore, summoning the courage to open his portal to the Palace. The tattered yellow ribbon he’d tied to it six years ago fluttered in a frigid breeze. He pulled his cloak tighter around his body, holding it shut over his green-tinted chain armor. Every time he thought about moving his hand to reach for the tree, he stopped the gesture before it got anywhere.

“You’re just standing there,” Tariel said from behind him.

He clamped back the urge to snap at her. She deserved no blame for the Portland problem and had nothing to do with his reticence to go back to the Palace. “I know that. Thank you.”

She pushed against his back with her nose. “The longer you wait, the longer it’ll be before you get back. Marie said dinner starts in two hours.”

He winced. “I didn’t realize she’d shouted that loud.”

“I think people down the street heard her.” Her amusement fell flat, still colored by shame. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” He rubbed her nose, warmed by the contact. “We’ll get some riding time in next week. I have a feeling I’ll need to spend the next few days with Marie and the girls.”

“Yes, good. But for now, you need to go.”

He sighed and nodded. “I see if I can get back in time to bring you some pie.”

“I don’t really deserve pie, but I’ll take it anyway.”

With nothing left to say, Justin squared his shoulders and focused his will on making the transition into the Palace. White light flared on the tree’s bark, and he stepped into it. His work boot landed on the woven rug covering the stone floor of his private room in the Palace. He kept a bed, shelves, and spare clothes here for emergencies.

Though he’d been here hundreds of times, something about this time felt…off. He couldn’t put his finger on it. The Palace had always been a second home, more comfortable than any other place besides the cottage he lived in. Except this time, when it seemed like walking into a movie with the sound out of sync just enough to notice.

Figuring it must be some lingering residue of being tainted, he tossed his cloak on the bed and strode into his private bathroom. To his relief, the mirror showed no new scars or lines marring his face or body. Even though it had seemed reasonable five minutes ago, the idea of some glowing red sigil marking him as unworthy felt ridiculous.

Someone knocked on his door, and he discovered Avery in the hallway outside. Frowning, the detective pushed his way in rather than inviting Justin out. Avery fidgeted and paced while Justin closed the door.

“Something’s wrong.” Avery ground his teeth. “It’s been almost four years since I was last here. That’s a long time, but not long enough for me to forget what this place should feel like. Do you remember how it was when you searched for your bond with Tariel for the first time? That awful, screechy noise you had to push through?” When Justin nodded, Avery continued. “That’s how it feels to me. This place is supposed to be our sanctuary. It’s supposed to feel like home. This is torture.”

Surprised to hear an echo of his own experience, Justin watched Avery’s frantic movements. “I can feel it too, but it’s not that bad. I can ignore it. Maybe you just need to focus.”

BOOK: Ethereal Entanglements
10.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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