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Untainted (The Crystal Island #1)
Author:Lilian T. James

Untainted (The Crystal Island #1)

Lilian T. James



To every person who suffers from anxiety and self-doubt. You do not have to accomplish a single one of your goals to matter. You. Are. Amazing.





Prologue


VERALIE



Jaren?”

“Shh…” He whispered, “You mustn’t speak, Veralie. We must be quiet as the wind.”

She glanced at him and dramatically rolled her eyes. She was fairly sure the wind wasn’t quiet at all, but she knew better than to tell Jaren he sounded dumb. He liked to think of himself as an adult when he said things like that and tended to get grumpy when anyone disagreed.

He held one of her hands caged in his much larger one, so she made do with tugging on it as he peered around the corner. The corridor was dark, barely illuminated by the few torches on the walls. There was usually a constant hum of noise from servants carrying out orders, but tonight there wasn’t another soul in sight.

Jaren had sneaked into her room and roughly shook her awake, demanding she leave with him. She hadn’t necessarily been surprised, just tired and cranky. He often slipped into her room when no one was looking to build fortresses and tell her stories about his training, or sometimes when he was lonely and wanted company.

Tonight had been different, though. The second she’d agreed to get up, he’d put a finger to his lips, laced his hand with hers, and dragged her towards the door. She was still in her nightdress, and it did nothing to protect her from the night’s bitter chill.

“Jaren!” she whispered sternly, “We’re not supposed to be out this late. Jaeros will catch us, and I—”

He whipped around and slapped his hand over her mouth. His green eyes bore into her, brighter than the emeralds in Queen Vaneara’s crown. Veralie’s hearing wasn’t nearly as good as his, but concentrating, she realized she could hear something. Shuffling.

They weren’t alone anymore.

Speaking their native tongue, a male’s gravelly voice came, barely above a whisper, but still somehow echoing down the empty corridor. “I heard something, over there!”

The silence was punctured by the pounding of boots. Veralie felt her wrist pop as Jaren yanked on her hand and threw her behind him. Taking a deep, shaky breath, he withdrew two daggers. He rarely went anywhere without them, but it still sent a wave of unease through her to see him draw them from their sheaths.

He sandwiched her between his back and the wall, the cold, rough stones grating against her skin through her clothing.

Two males rounded the corner, both dressed in all black, each grasping long swords in their meaty hands. They smiled cruelly when their eyes locked on to Jaren and her. Their bodies were massive, and the flames of the corridor’s torches glinted almost blindingly off their white-blond hair.

Veralie had enough sense to know she should be terrified, especially with how Jaren was acting. It was obvious these men, with their swords and mean smiles, wanted to hurt them. But even as her fear began to rise, she couldn’t help but also notice that the males were identical. She had never seen anyone look so much alike before.

“What a surprise, already out of bed and everything. What do you think you’re possibly going to do with those, boy?”

The male on the left laughed and held his sword up a few feet away from where Jaren stood in front of her. Movement on the blade caught her eye, and Veralie’s heart started beating rapidly at the blood dripping off its tip.

Jaren’s shaking vibrated against her body, down to the tip of her toes. He tried pushing her even harder against the wall, practically squeezing the air out of her lungs, as if he hoped to hide her amongst the stones.

“Don’t come any closer,” he said, raising his daggers.

Veralie dug her fingers into the back of his tunic, scared more for him than anything else. He was only five years older than her and had only begun training that year when he turned ten. He was no match for the giants before them.

“Get out of our way boy, before I find this less amusing than I do now.”

Before the male could so much as huff another laugh, Jaren whipped his right arm back and released a dagger. He was still so close to her, the air kissed Veralie’s face as his wrist flicked back above her head before flying forward.

She didn’t know where he’d intended to throw the dagger, but when it only embedded into the male’s arm, Jaren cursed.

The male hissed, eyes wide, as he looked down at the blade. “You will regret that.” Sheathing his sword, he grimaced and pulled the dagger free, blood running down his arm.

Jaren reached back with his now empty hand and laced his fingers with hers, whether to prepare to run or just offer comfort, she didn’t know.

Before she could take another breath, the male whipped his arm forward and released the bloodied dagger back at them. Twisting with predatory speed, Jaren barreled into her, knocking them both to the side.

She heard the blade strike against the stone wall just as they fell. He rolled to the side to avoid landing on her, but that didn’t protect her head from bouncing hard off the unforgiving ground.

He moved away from her, and the space he’d been occupying turned cold and empty. She heaved in air, fighting against the black dots invading her sight. She rolled to her side, blinking to clear her vision, and saw Jaren’s dagger by her feet.

Groaning, she pushed up off the ground onto her knees. She tried to stand but couldn’t get her legs to cooperate. Her head was pounding, and she felt sticky wetness on her fingers when she reached back to touch it. She slowly raised her head and felt an icy terror spear through her. The male stood a foot away, towering over her, but it was the scene behind him that made her feel sick.

The second male, who had thus far been silent, loomed over a moaning Jaren, with the point of a sword resting against his ribs, while the first male sneered down at her frozen form.

He dropped down into a squat and leaned forward. She reared back against the wall and clasped the dagger at her feet in both hands. She could smell the metallic tang of blood as it dripped down the pommel toward her hands. His sneer turned malicious, and he glanced at the blade and back up as if daring her to use it.

He reached forward with his good arm, and Veralie instantly panicked, dropping the dagger. She threw her hands over her head in a futile, childish attempt to hide. Laughing, he continued reaching for her.

“I see you.”

His breath landed hotly against her skin as he wrapped his thick, calloused fingers around her chin. With a bruising grip, he forced her face up out of the cage of her arms.

“Don’t you touch her!” Jaren screeched.