Authors: Kate Avery Ellison
Other books by Kate Avery Ellison
The Curse Girl
Once Upon a Beanstalk
Frost (The Frost Chronicles #1)
Thorns (The Frost Chronicles #2)
Weavers (The Frost Chronicles #3)
Bluewing (The Frost Chronicles #4)
Kate Avery Ellison
Copyright © 2013 Kate Avery Ellison
All Rights Reserved
Do not distribute or make copies of this book, electronically or otherwise, in part or in whole, without the written consent of the author.
For everyone who loves the Frost and the characters who inhabit it.
AERALIS: THE FROST CHRONICLES #5
Lia Weaver and her friends have finally driven the Farther soldiers from the Frost, but the danger is not over yet. Ann Mayor and her father have found themselves the target of violence, the villagers are fighting, and Jonn’s life hangs in the balance.
When an unexpected enemy surfaces in the Frost wilderness and endangers Lia’s family, she faces a terrible choice, and against Thorns orders, she sets out to find answers in Aeralis.
“COME QUICKLY,” IVY gasped. Her pale face glimmered in the darkness, and her pulse drummed against my fingers as I grabbed her wrist to steady her. “Jonn’s collapsed.”
“A seizure?” Anxiety fizzled through my veins. I released her and rushed for the door, dragging in lungfuls of air to clear my head before I went inside. He was overworked. He was pushing himself too hard. We should have seen this coming. I remembered how pale he’d looked when I’d retrieved him from our family’s farm the day before. He’d practically fainted from exhaustion.
Ivy’s voice made me freeze. She spoke low and fast, as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear.
“Adam says he thinks it’s the Sickness.”
The anxiety in my veins burst into flames of sheer panic.
I pushed through the doors and ran into the Assembly Hall with Ivy at my heels. People milled everywhere, murmuring quietly. The meetings had concluded for the day. Their faces showed no sign of alarm, so I assumed they didn’t know. I shoved my way to the front of the room and found Ann waiting for me.
“Where is he?”
“They’ve taken him into the back,” she said, and I ran for the door to the little alcove hidden away behind the dais before she’d even finished speaking.
This smaller room was dark, lit only by candles and a narrow window that let in moonlight. Jonn lay on the floor, his eyes shut, his hair a mess of sweat-soaked curls. Adam was crouched over my brother’s still body, one hand pressed to the pulse at Jonn’s throat. A Healer knelt at his side. The Mayor hovered nearby, watching.
“Lia,” Adam said as soon as I came in, without raising his head. “Don’t panic. He’s all right, but we need to move him immediately.”
He shook his head without looking at me. Not here. I looked at the Mayor and clamped my lips shut as Ivy’s words, words I couldn’t say, shivered in my mind.
Ivy slipped into the room and stood behind me without saying a word. She touched my arm. Her hands were cold.
“Where will we take him?” I asked.
“My house,” Ann said, stepping through the doorway behind me and shutting the door after her. “We can quarantine him there. He’ll be far from prying eyes. He’ll be safe.”
I nodded. Safe, and far from anyone he might infect.
Adam lifted him, and we went through the back door and out into the night. The cold Frost air nipped at my flushed face. Jonn moaned, and I reached for him.
“Try not to touch him too much,” Adam said quietly.
I removed my hand.
Every step was excruciating. Jonn whimpered every time he was jolted, and I kept pace uselessly beside Adam and bit my lip until it bled. How had this happened? How had he become sick? It had been weeks and weeks since I had returned from the past.
We reached the Mayor’s house. Ann opened the door, and we went inside. She led us to a guest bedroom on the top floor, one with a single bed in the corner and a high window on the wall that let in starlight. Adam ripped back the blankets with one hand and laid my brother on the bed with the other. I crouched beside the bed and rested my hand a few inches from Jonn’s. Ivy was behind me, her lips pressed together to hold in a sob. The Healer joined Adam at the side of the bed, displacing me. I rose and went to a corner to pace. Ann stood in the doorway, watchful but keeping herself at a distance.
“Can we speak freely now?” I asked, looking at Adam.
He lowered his head and nodded. “We don’t want to cause a panic, so the information must stay in this room, but I believe he has the Sickness. I’ve seen it before, and it is distinctive. This temporary coma, the sudden onset, the discoloration on his face. His pupils are dilated, he is feverish, and he was bleeding from his eyes and nose.”
Ivy made a sound like a swallowed sob.
I crept closer to the bed where my brother lay without stirring. His skin was the color of snow, and dark bruises painted shadows beneath his closed eyes. His chest rose and fell rhythmically, and one of his fingers twitched against the bed.
“Are you completely certain he has it?” I asked.
“No,” Adam said gently, as if the word could comfort me like a caress, as if that word should inspire me to hope. However, I could see in his expression that he was almost sure.
I took a deep breath. “If it is the Sickness...what do we do?”
“We quarantine him,” Adam said. “It doesn’t spread well in cold weather—that’s why the Frost has always been protected—but someone else could get it if they weren’t careful around him. We’ll need to bathe carefully and burn the clothes we’re wearing now to protect ourselves during his contagious period, which starts with the onset of the coma.”
“And Jonn? What do we do for him?” My throat was tight.
“There is nothing that can be done for him now.” He spoke gently but firmly. “We can only wait. If he recovers, he recovers. If he succumbs, he succumbs.”
THE WIND OF the Frost whipped around me, making my cloak flutter and my cheeks prickle. I paused at the tree line, inhaling the scent of pine and ice and earth. Living in the village made me miss these things more than I ever realized I would, and I savored them now.
Ahead of me, Adam was a warm shadow of comforting silence as he waited for me to join him on the path that wove through the rocks and branches like a needle through a thick bunch of wool.
The snow crunched beneath my boots as I entered the Frost.
I reached his side, and we continued together, moving swiftly, not pausing to talk or catch our breath until we’d climbed the hill and reached the plateau where the sky dipped down and the mountains stretched up to mingle together on a darkening horizon. A faint shimmer touched the air, and I felt the energy straight to my bones.
Adam and I approached the entrance slowly, and when we had gotten within a few yards of the gaping hole that led inside, the shadows stirred and two figures stepped forward. The faces were almost identical, except one of the men had lighter, shorter hair than the other, and his face had an earnest quality while the other’s expression was aloof, calculating, and cold.
“Gabe,” Adam said. “Korr.” It was not so much a greeting as an acknowledgement.
Gabe’s eyes found mine, and I felt hot and cold. We hadn’t seen each other in weeks, but it felt like years. Something about him was different. His hair was shorter now, cut into an Aeralian style, and his cloak and boots were of the finest material. But it wasn’t those things. There was a new hardness to his eyes, a resolution and a fire.
He looked every inch the prince he was.
“Let’s not waste time,” Korr snapped. “Where is it?”
I looked at Adam, but he stepped back and gestured for me to lead the way. I started into the darkness, and they followed without a word. As the ruined grandeur swallowed us whole, I glanced over my shoulder at Korr’s face. I wanted to see fear, or at least apprehension, but his expression was unreadable.
We climbed through darkness down to the bowels of the ruin, past crumbling walls and around piles of debris that half-barricaded the passages. Some of the walls were scrawled with unfamiliar symbols and letters, remnants of a time of chaos after Gabe and I had left. I remembered this place the way it had been—gleaming, all white stone and glass and quiet, echoing hallways filled with robed scientists and shy swabbers, who kept the floors shining and disappeared at the whistled signal that someone was approaching. I could almost taste the mingled scent of must and chemicals.
After endless sets of spiraling staircases and halls strewn with debris, we reached the room where the gate was kept. Our footsteps echoed as we entered. The edges of the ceiling disappeared into darkness, and through the hole in the roof, stars sparkled like shards of ice. At the end of the room lurked the gate, a sleeping gray circle.
“Is that it?” Korr asked, a note of suspicion in his voice. He surveyed the gate carefully, as if suspecting a trick.
“That’s it,” I said.
His expression revealed nothing. “And the PLD?”
I looked at Adam. We had promised it to Korr in exchange for his help driving the Farthers from the Frost, and besides, we no longer needed it. Still, I loathed giving it up, if only because it was a secret passed on to me by my parents, a secret that had been guarded by Weavers for hundreds of years.
Adam nodded slightly at me, his brow furrowing, and the meaning was clear.
We had no choice.
Korr lifted one eyebrow, expressing his impatience. “Don’t make me list all the reasons you need to stay on my good side, Weaver.”
Frustration simmered through my veins, but I steeled myself against it and crossed the room alone to the wall beside the gate. My fingers brushed the release for the secret compartment where Jonn had found the last of my father’s journals, the one that had given him the instructions to operate the PLD. A panel slid aside, and a cylinder case glittered in the hidden alcove revealed beyond.
The portable locomotion device.
The case was cold and heavy in my hands as I returned to the others.
Korr snatched it from me. He opened the flap and withdrew the device—a long, thin metal pipe with wires sprouting from one end. He didn’t say anything as he probed it. After a thorough examination, he tucked the PLD into a pouch beneath his cape, and as simply as that, it was gone from me.
“I’m not sure what use you think you can derive from the device,” I said. “The gate is still set to take travelers back to the past. We don’t know how to change it.”
Korr seemed unruffled by my words. He smoothed his cloak with a flick of his fingers and regarded me with a frosty glare. “It’s time that we took our leave. Little brother?”
Gabe met my eyes instead of Korr’s. “Ready,” he said, but the word was a sigh.
“We have more to discuss, but let’s get out of this forsaken place before the monsters eat us,” Korr muttered, and turned on his heel for the exit.
We headed back for the surface, and once again I was drowning in memories of Echlos’s past, both recent and ancient—stark white corridors filled with scientists and hissing gates delivering jumpers, and the same corridors centuries later, filled with fugitives in my care, huddled together against the cold as we struggled to survive the harsh climate.
Gabe’s steps deliberately slowed to match mine, letting Korr and Adam get ahead of us. We looked at each other out of the corners of our eyes, but we didn’t speak. It’d been three weeks since I’d seen him last, three weeks since the night when he’d kissed me and then vanished into the night after our defeat of the Aeralian soldiers. Three weeks of time and an eternity of worry and pain.
“How are you?” he asked in a low voice.
I hesitated, focusing on my feet instead of looking at him. A flood of words pushed at my lips, threatening to spill out—how I’d paced and wept at the news of Jonn’s sickness, how the village people fought over everything from new quota laws to who could rightfully call themselves a Frost dweller, how I missed him and the ache was like a bruise on my heart. But he had left us. Things had changed. I didn’t know what I could say to him anymore. He was Gabe, my friend, but an aura of otherness clung to him like a garment, and he was working with Korr now. The familiarity we’d once shared was tainted by unease.
“Life is still a perilous dance,” I said finally.
“You are the Bluewing.” Something glimmered in his eyes. Regret? Desire?