Omen of Ice Exclusive Content
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Omen of Ice by Jus Accardo!
It’s a rare day. The sun pokes through the normally thick cloud cover, and the chill in the air is just a bit less biting than usual. Valen and I have been in the eastern courtyard since this morning, training.
“If you keep swinging it like that, you’re going to lop off something important.” I yank the sword from his hand and drive it into the ground in front of him. “Pay attention this time.”
I lift my sword and pivot, swinging up, then spinning one hundred and eighty degrees to meet an invisible enemy. As I turn, I bring the blade up and to the left to demonstrate the move for him again.
“Something important, eh? I didn’t realize you cared so much about my bits and pieces.”
“Try it again!” I spin with my blade up. Thankfully, Valen grabs his weapon and parries.
“Ah-ha!” He steps away and does a weird victory dance.
I roll my eyes and stomp on his foot.
“Ow!” Valen drops his sword and hops up and down, cringing. “Why the hell did you do that?”
“You have to be ready for anything!”
“I doubt the enemy is going to step on my feet.”
“That’s just it,” I say. “You have no idea what the enemy will do. The best fighters improvise. They use whatever they can to disarm you—physically and mentally.”
“I’m far better with hand-to-hand.” He points to his discarded sword, then flashes me a grin that makes my insides heat despite the chill in the air. “Wanna see?”
“Fine.” I back up to the far end of the courtyard. “Do whatever you can to stay upright.”
I charge forward. Valen’s eyes widen for a split second before he narrowly dances out of my path. I slide to a stop and turn, lunging for him once again. I swing, but Valen skillfully blocks my blow by forming a crude club of ice, then dropping it and grabbing my wrist. He spins me so that my back is flush against him.
“See? Isn’t this more fun that poking sharp sticks at each other?” He laughs. It’s a deep, deliciously dark sound that sends goosebumps skittering up and down my arms.
He thinks he’s got the upper hand. That he’s overpowered me. But I have him right where I want him.
Pressing against him, I laugh. “You do have a point…” I lean back and sigh. “You know what would be even better?”
“I definitely have a few ideas…”
I wrap my right arm around the back of his neck. Then, grabbing a handful of his tunic, I lunge forward and flip him upside down. He lands on the ground with a huff.
I expect a witty retort. Some snap about how I finally laid him out—or something equally crude. Instead, he kicks up and tackles me, sending us both to the ground, me on top of him.
“Would you like to hear them?”
I try to answer him, but the words… They just won’t come. His eyes are on me, boring through me like they can see into the deepest, darkest corners of my mind. His consciousness brushes against mine through the link. Prodding, questioning… It’s tentative in a way I’m not used to when it comes to him. He talks a lot, puts on a show for everyone else, but me? I can see through it all. Whether it’s because he allows it—or because of the link—I don’t know. A part of me thrills at it.
While another part is terrified of what it might mean.
I push him off and jump to my feet. We’ve grown closer. He might not have wanted me here to begin with, but he’s accepted my presence—even started to rely on it. I’m glad. That’s what the bond is for.
The other stuff, though? The looks that last just a bit too long, the laughter that rings just a bit too true… Sometimes I find myself watching him, wondering what it would be like if neither of us were inked with the Heartbreaker.
“We’re done for tonight. I have to go.”
I turn and start to walk away, but Valen gently catches my arm. “You really don’t…”
“I really do…” I don’t dare glance back at him as I slip my arm from his grip and quickly head back to my room.
We reach the edge of the forest and set up for the night inside a small cave. Tania has been oddly quiet in the last few hours, the emotion coming through the link somber.
“You’re worried,” I say, leaning back against the cave wall.
Across from me, her eyes are closed, and her head is tilted back. She shrugs and sighs. “Of course I’m worried. This is a disaster.”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t been all bad…”
She opens her eyes and leans forward, staring at me. “I linked myself to the heir to the Winter Lands, then fled the estate with him. What about that doesn’t sound all bad?”
“First off, it was my choice to leave the estate, if you recall.” I tap the ground between us. “And second, I’m not the heir to anything.”
“I just mean, I don’t want to take Orbik’s place. Ruling the Winter Lands? Not for me.” I laugh. “Besides, Orbik would rather cut off his own legs than see a bastard sitting on his throne.”
“So why hasn’t he produced an heir of his own?”
“He and Liani have tried. They just haven’t had any luck.” I lean back, tucking my hands behind my head to shield myself from the jagged cave wall. “It doesn’t matter. Orbik plans to live forever anyway.”
She snorts and leans back. “If he keeps going the way he is, then someone else might have other plans.”
“I’m sure there are many who would be happy to offer my uncle a ride to Kembak on the tip of their sword.”
“Do the druids call it something else?” I lean forward. “It’s where we believe Fae souls go when they leave this world, to be judged.”
“Druids don’t separate good from bad. There’s no judgment.” Tania opens her eyes. “We call it The Dream.”
“Sounds like someplace you’d see prancing ponies and colorful butterflies.” I wink at her. “I bet there’s no wine. You druids don’t seem to like wine…”
“If there was ever a chance for me to like wine, Valen, you’ve ruined it for me by guzzling so much.”
I laugh. She’s serious—but amused. I feel it through the link.
“Back before our magic was lost, it’s said that the most powerful of us could actually travel to The Dream at will.”
I shudder. “No thanks. I’ll visit the afterlife when I’m dead.”
“It’s not the afterlife. Not really.” Tania sits forward. There’s a gleam of excitement in her eyes. Of wonder. “It’s the place between places. The source of our magic. It’s a place of redemption and salvation but also peace.”
“Actually, that sounds boring.”
“Why am I not surprised you think so…”
I lean back again, staring through a small hole in the cave ceiling. Every once in a while, the clouds shift, revealing a starlit night sky. “I never imagined I would be able to talk to someone like this.”
“Like this? You mean sober?”
“Aren’t you funny…” I flick a small pebble at her, and she grins. “You know more about me than anyone does. Or has.”
“I’d say lucky me, but some of the things I know—I wish I didn’t.” She offers me a mock cringe, then shakes her head slowly. “You, Valen, are truly disturbing to know.”
“And you, Fungus, are utterly dull.” I grab my pack and dig in, pulling out a small handful of neon green. Holding it out to her, I say, “Here. I picked this for you.”
She takes the small cluster of leaves and vines, recoiling. “If you expect me to eat this—”
“I wouldn’t…not unless you want to wander around the forest for several days, possibly naked and talking to things that aren’t there.”
She quirks a brow.
“It’s a hallucinogen.”
“And you’re giving it to me because—”
“It’s Dreadshade. It’s a fungus.” It’s extinct within the borders of the Winter Lands, so when I saw it a few miles before we stopped for the night, I plucked it from the ground. “It used to be used for recreation, but it’s addicting, so Fae overused it and it became toxic. It killed hundreds.” I smile. “It reminds me of you!”
She scowls at the mass of vines in her hand, then drops it to the cave floor between us. “Um…”
“What I mean is, it’s invasive. It can be a pain in the ass, lethal if used the wrong way. But when planted next to Fae Root—an herb abundant at the estate—it blooms into magnificent red flowers with razor-sharp leaves. Together, the Dreadshade and the Fae Root create something beautiful.”
She studies the fungus, then picks it up again, examining it closer.
“You’re the Dreadshade, and I’m the Fae Root. Separate, you know, we’re fine. But together, we are something to see…”
A rush of something warm floods the link. Tania’s expression softens, and she tenderly wraps the fungus into her pack. When she’s done, she leans across and plants the softest of kisses on my forehead.
“What was that for?” I sit on my hand to keep from touching the place her lips just were.
“Because sometimes you really surprise me.”
I grin. “I’ve got plenty of surprises where that came from. How about you come over here and—”
“And you ruined it.”
I wink at her. She stares at me, but I can feel that she wants to laugh. “I have that effect on people.”