Page 62

“I’ve been better, obviously.” She readjusted the blanket over her, getting more comfortable on the chaise. “But I will live to fight another day, and that’s what matters.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Why did you just collapse?”

“How old do you think I am?” Elora asked, turning so her eyes met mine. A few days ago they’d been almost black, but now they had the gray haze of cataracts.

Her age was a hard question to answer. When I’d first met her, I’d have pegged her for fifty-something. A very beautiful fifty, but even then, she’d had an aged quality under her stunning features.

Now, lying on the chaise, frail and tired, Elora looked even more advanced in age than that. She looked like an old woman, but I didn’t want to say that to her, of course.

“Um … forty, maybe?”

“You’re kind, and a bad liar.” She pushed herself up, so she was sitting up a bit. “That’s something you’ll need to work on. The horrible reality is that being a leader involves a lot of lying.”

“I’ll practice my poker face later,” I said. “You look good, though, if that’s what you’re asking. Just tired and run-down.”

“I am tired and run-down,” Elora admitted wearily. “And I’m only thirty-nine.”

“Thirty-nine what?” I asked, confused, and she propped her head on her hand so she could look at me.

“Thirty-nine years old,” she said, smiling wider. “You seem shocked. I don’t blame you. Although I’m surprised you didn’t catch on sooner. I told you that I married your father when I was very young. I had you when I was twenty-one.”

“But…” I stammered. “Is that what’s wrong with you? Are you aging too fast?”

“Not exactly.” She pursed her lips. “It’s the price we pay for our abilities. When we use them, they drain us and age us.”

“All the stuff you do—like the mind-speak and holding Loki prisoner—that’s killing you?” I asked.

She nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“Then why do it?” I wanted to shout at her, but I kept my voice as even as I could. “I can understand defending yourself, but calling Finn with mind-speak? Why would you do something if it’s killing you?”

“The mind-speak doesn’t use as much.” Elora waved it off. “The things that are really draining I only do when I have to, like housing a prisoner. But what uses it the most is the precognitive painting, and that I can’t control.”

I glanced at several paintings Elora had leaned up against the windows. Across the hall, she had a locked room filled with these paintings.

“What do you mean, you can’t control it?” I asked. “Just don’t do it.”

“I can’t see the visions, but they fill my head.” She gestured to her forehead. “It’s an agonizing blackness that takes over until I paint and get them out. I can’t stop them from coming, and it’s too painful to ignore them. I would go insane if I tried to keep them all inside.”

“But it’s killing you.” I slumped in the chair. “Why even teach other Trylle how to use their abilities, if it means they’ll grow weak and old?”

“That’s the price.” She sighed. “We go mad if we don’t use them, we age if we do. The more powerful we are, the more cursed we are.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I’ll go crazy if I stop?”

“I don’t really know what will happen to you.” Elora rested her chin on her hand, eyeing me. “You’re your father’s daughter too.”

“What?” I shook my head. “You mean because I have Vittra blood too?”


“Tove told me about them. He said they’re very strong, but I’m not strong.” I remembered all the fights I’d been in throughout my illustrious school career, and how I’d taken a beating as often as I’d given one. “I’m not like that.”

“Some are physically strong, yes,” Elora clarified. “That Loki Staad, I believe, is very strong. If I recall correctly, he could lift a grand piano by the time he could walk.”

“Yeah, I can’t do that.”

“Oren isn’t that way. He is…” She trailed off, thinking. “You met him. How old do you think he is?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “A few years younger than you, maybe.”

“When I married him, he was seventy-six, and that was twenty years ago,” Elora said.

“Whoa. What?” I stood up. “You’re telling me that he’s nearly a hundred? He’s over twice your age? So you look older, and he looks younger? How?”

“He’s something like immortal.”

“He’s immortal?” I gaped at her.

“No, Princess, I said he’s something like immortal,” Elora said carefully. “Oren ages, but at a much slower rate, and he heals very quickly. It’s hard for him to be hurt. He’s one of the last pure-blooded Vittra to be born.”

“That’s what makes me so special, and that’s why you weren’t worried when I told you that my host mother almost killed me.” I rested my hands on the back of the chair, supporting myself with it. “You think I’m like him.”