Let the Storm Break
by Shannon Messenger
Breathtaking action continues in the sequel to the “remarkably unpredictable” (BCCB) lush fantasy novel, Let the Sky Fall, from the author of the bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.
Vane Weston is haunted. By the searing pull of his bond to Audra. By the lies he’s told to cover for her disappearance. By the treacherous winds that slip into his mind, trying to trap him in his worst nightmares. And as his enemies grow stronger, Vane doesn’t know how much longer he can last on his own.
But Audra’s still running. From her past. From the Gales. Even from Vane, who she doesn’t believe she deserves. And the farther she flees, the more danger she finds. She possesses the secret power her enemy craves, and protecting it might be more than she can handle—especially when she discovers Raiden’s newest weapon.
With the Gale Force weakened by recent attacks, and the power of four collapsing, Vane and Audra are forced to make a choice: keep trusting the failing winds, or turn to the people who’ve betrayed them before. But even if they survive the storms sent to destroy them, will they have anything left to hold on to?
It sucks to be king.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I got a castle and servants and my face on a bunch of money.
But no, I get to be the king of a scattered race of mythical creatures that no one’s ever heard of. And they expect me to swoop in and defeat the evil warlord who’s been tormenting them for the last few decades. Oh, and hey, while I’m at it, I can marry their former princess and restore the royal line!
Yeah, thanks, I’ll pass.
I already told the Gale Force—my “army” or whatever—what they can do with their “betrothal.” And I’ve been tempted to tell them exactly where they can shove the rest of their little plans for my life.
But . . . it’s hard to stay angry when they keep giving me this desperate you’re our only hope look. And they’re all so full of stories about the things Raiden’s done to their friends and families, and the horrifying battles they’ve fought. Risking their lives to protect me.
The last Westerly.
The only one capable of harnessing the power of all four winds, twisting them into the ultimate weapon.
Well, they think I’m the only one.
Which is the other reason I’m playing along with the whole Your Highness thing.
I have someone to protect too. And I can do that much better as Vane Weston, king of the Windwalkers.
So I’ll follow their rules and train for their battles. But as soon as Audra comes back…
She left twenty-three days, seven hours, and twenty-one minutes ago—and yes, I’ve totally been counting. I’ve felt every second, every mile she’s put between us, like our bond has claws and teeth, tearing me apart inside.
And it’s been loads of fun trying to explain to the Gales why my guardian left me unprotected. Every day that passes makes the excuses I’ve given seem weaker.
I thought she’d be home by now.
But it doesn’t matter.
Audra promised she’d come home—and I want to give her the time she needs.
So I’ll wait for her as long as it takes.
It’s the only choice I have.
I’m not running.
Racing the sun across the sky, carried by the whim of the wind.
I have no plan.
No guide along this journey.
Just the whispered songs floating on the breezes, promising that hope still lingers on the horizon.
The birds circle me as I fly, dipping and diving and begging me to join their game. But they’re lost to me now, like everything else.
Everything except the one person I should be trying to erase.
I can feel him in the air.
In my heart.
In the empty ache from the space between us, mixed with the delicious sparks that still burn in my lips from our kiss.
I will not regret forging it.
But I’m not ready to face it either.
Not until I’ve sorted through the tatters of my life. Swept away the lies and mistakes and found someone who’s more than the guardian who broke her oath.
More than the traitor who stole the king.
More than the daughter of a murderer.
The last word turns my stomach, and I’m grateful I’ve gone back to denying myself food and drink.
I’ve paid for my mother’s sins every day for the last ten years.
I won’t pay for them anymore.
But is locking her away enough to erase her influence? Or does it sink deeper, like one of Raiden’s wicked winds, breaking me down piece by piece?
I always thought she and I were sunrise and sunset—two opposites that could never meet.
But I have her dark hair and deep blue eyes. Her connection to the birds and her stubborn temper.
I’m more like her than I ever wanted to be.
Maybe I am running.
But not from Vane.
I really miss sleep.
The clock by my bed says 3:23 a.m., and all I want to do is face plant on my pillow and close my eyes for about a year.
I drop to the floor and do push-ups instead.
Exercise is the only way to stay awake. And hey, maybe Audra will appreciate how ripped I’m getting from these late-night workouts. Though I’m not sure how much longer I can keep them up.
I haven’t slept more than a few hours over the last two weeks—and it was hardly what I’d call restful.
Freaking Raiden and his freaking winds.
The Gales thought he’d wait to see how powerful I am before he made any sort of move—though they assigned me a new guardian and set up a base nearby, just in case. But after a few days Raiden found a better way to torture me.
Creepy, broken drafts keep slipping into the valley, drawn to me like heat-seeking missiles. And if they catch me when I’m asleep, they slip into my dreams and twist everything I care about into a Slideshow of Suck.
Walls and windows can’t block them, and no one can find a command to keep them away. So it’s either be a Vane-zombie all the time or suffer through the nightmares. I’ll take zombie any day.
I’ve seen my friends and family tortured so brutally it’s hard to look them in the eye. And Audra . . .
Watching someone hurt her is like drowning in boiling oil. I
wake up screaming and soaked in sweat and it takes forever to convince myself it wasn’t real. Especially since I can’t hold her or see her to know she’s really okay. The pull of our bond tells me she’s alive, but it can’t tell me if she’s safe. For that I have to feel her trace. And that’s not easy to do, considering my uptight new guardian, Feng—I call him Fang to annoy him—thinks the only way to protect me is to never let me out of his sight.
He’s seriously insane—and I’d probably be going insane too if it weren’t for Gus.
I glance at the clock, grinning when I see it’s 3:32.
Gus is supposed to take over Fang’s stand-outside-Vane’s-window-like-a-stalker shift every night at three thirty, but I swear he shows up late just to drive Fang crazy.
Tonight he waits until 3:37.
Fang screams at him so loud it scares Gavin—Audra’s stupid pet hawk—out of his tree. But when I glance out my window, Gus is totally unfazed. He winks at me as Fang paces back and forth, waving his burly arms and shaking his head so hard, his dark, scraggly braid keeps whipping him in the cheek. The tirade goes on at least five minutes before Fang switches to the nightly update.
I stop listening.
It’s always vague reports from other bases with weird names and weirder army terms, and the few times I’ve asked anyone to translate, it turned into yet another lecture on Why I Need to Teach Everyone Westerly. It’s just not worth the fight.
I switch to sit-ups, trying to keep my energy up, and I’ve done 314 before Fang finally flies away. Physically, I’m rocking at my training. It’s the memorizing a billion and a half wind commands that’s killing me. That, and covering for Audra—though hopefully she’ll be home soon and I won’t have to worry about that part anymore.
If she—I stop the thought before I can finish it.
She is coming back—and when she does, I can think of all kinds of awesome ways to celebrate. In the meantime I settle for making sure she’s okay.
I stand and stretch, throw on the first T-shirt I find, and climb quietly out my window.
Well . . . I try to climb out quietly.
I can’t help yelping when I scrape my arm against the pyracantha, and spend the rest of my sprint across the yard cursing my parents for planting thornbushes outside my bedroom.
“What are you laughing at, Legolas?” I ask when I make it to Gus. He doesn’t get that I’m teasing him about his blond, braided hair, and I’ve never explained the joke. Probably because he somehow makes the girlie hair work. That, and his biceps are bigger than my head.
“Just wondering when you’re going to figure out how to jump over the plants, not into them.”
“Hey, I’d like to see you do better—on zero sleep,” I add when Gus raises an eyebrow.
Gus is, like, Captain Fitness, and he has a special Windwalker gift that lets him channel the power of the wind into his muscles. If he weren’t such a nice guy, I’d probably hate him. A lot of the other guardians seem to, which is probably why he got stuck covering the late shift watching me. Rumor has it I’m
not the most popular assignment. Apparently, I can be difficult.
“Maybe you should try wearing the Gale uniform,” Gus tells me, pulling at the long, stiff sleeves of his black guardian jacket. “It would save you a lot of scrapes.”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
I’m not wearing thick pants and a coat in the desert.
Even in the middle of the night, this place feels like living inside a blow-dryer.
Plus, I’m not a Gale.
I’ll train with them and let them follow me around. But this isn’t my life. This is just something I have to deal with.
“Off for another mystery flight?” he asks as I stretch out my hands to feel for nearby winds.
Gus never asks me where I’m going, and he’s never tried to stop me.
“Make sure you stay north and west,” he warns. “They’re running heavy guard patrols in the south. Feng told me the Borderland Base had a disturbance yesterday.”
“Disturbance” is the Gales’ term for “attack.”
“Three of them survived.”
Which means two guardians didn’t—unless Borderland is one of the bigger bases, where they keep a crew of seven.
“Don’t worry—there’s no sign of Stormers in the area. They’re picking off all the fringes. Trying to leave us stranded out here.”
Yeah, because that doesn’t make me worry.
My voice shakes as I call three nearby Easterlies to my side, but I feel a little better when I hear their familiar songs. The east wind always sings of change and hope.
“Still don’t trust me enough to use Westerly?” Gus asks. “You know I won’t understand it.”
I do know that.
And I trust Gus way more than I trust anyone else.
But I’m still not risking it.
My parents—and every other Westerly—gave up their lives to protect our secret language. And not just because they were brave enough to stand in the way of Raiden’s quest for ultimate power.
Violence goes against our very being.
I’ll never forget the agony that hit me when I ended the Stormer who’d been trying to kill Audra. Even though it was self-defense, it felt like my whole body shattered, and if Audra hadn’t been there to help me through, I’m not sure I would’ve pulled myself back together.
I can’t risk letting the power of my heritage end up under the control of anyone who doesn’t understand the evil of killing. Anyone who isn’t as determined as I am to avoid it at any cost. Anyone who isn’t willing to make the kind of sacrifice that might be necessary to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Even the Gales—no matter how much they beg or threaten.
And yeah, they’ve threatened. They’ve made it pretty dang clear that Audra’s “desertion” is considered an especially serious offense right now, when they need her help so much more. But if they had the power of four on their side . . .
I still haven’t figured out how to handle any of that—except to add it to my list of Things I Will Worry About Later.
“I’ll be back before sunrise,” I tell Gus as I wrap the winds around me and order them to surge. The cool drafts tangle tighter, stirring up the dusty ground as they launch me into the sky.
It takes me a second to get my bearings, and another after that to really get control. Audra hadn’t been kidding when she told me windwalking’s one of the hardest skills to master, and I definitely prefer letting her carry me. But it wasn’t quite the same being carted around by Fang or Gus, and it’s hard to sneak around in my noisy car. So I forced myself to learn how to get around on my own.
The first dozen times I tried, the drafts dropped me flat on my face. Then one night I had some sort of breakthrough.
It wasn’t like the times when Audra opened my mind to the languages of the wind—but I did hear something new. A voice beneath the voice of the wind, telling me what the gust is about to do so I can give a new command and keep control.
I asked Gus about it once and he looked at me like I was psycho, so I’m pretty sure it’s something only I hear. Maybe something I picked up from Audra when we bonded, since I hear it best with Easterlies. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it because it lets me fly faster and farther than even the most experienced Gales.
The lights of the desert cities blur below and I follow the treetlights lining the I-10 freeway, heading up into the mountains. It’s a path I’ve flown dozens of times, but I still feel my insides get all bunched up as I soar over the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. There are gaps in the rows of blinking red lights now.
Places where windmills used to be—before Raiden’s Stormers destroyed them in the fight.
Every time I relive the attack, I can’t help thinking the same thing.
Soon we’ll be fighting his whole army.
The air gets cooler as I fly, and as it sinks into my skin it feels like downing a shot of caffeine. Still, it barely makes a dent in my exhaustion, and my sleep-deprived body stumbles through the landing on San Gorgonio Peak. I sorta half sit, half collapse near the edge of the cliff.
I close my eyes, so tempted to curl up and grab even a few minutes of sleep. But it’s not worth the risk. Besides, I came here for something much more important.
I reach out my hands, searching for Audra’s trace.
I can’t really describe the process. It’s like some part of me connects to the wind, following an invisible trail through the sky that somehow always leads me to her.
And I know it’s her.
The rush of heat.
The electricity zinging under my skin.
No girl has ever made me feel like that.
It helps that she’s the only connection I have to my past and that I’ve dreamed about her most of my life—and that she’s ridiculously hot.
But even if she weren’t, Audra’s the one.
Always has been.
Always will be.
I sink into the warmth, leaning back and letting the sparks shock me with tiny zings. It’s almost like she’s holding on to me across the sky, promising that she’s still out there. Still safe.
And maybe I’m crazy, but the feeling seems stronger tonight.
So intense it makes my heart race and my head spin. And the dizzier I get, the more I can’t help but ask the one question I’ve been trying not to let myself ask since I found her dusty jacket and her hasty goodbye.
Is she finally on her way home?
I try not to get my hopes up in case I’m wrong. But it doesn’t feel like I’m wrong. It feels like she’s so close I could reach out and—Vane.
The sound makes my heart freeze.
I hold my breath, starting to think I imagined it when she melts out of the shadows.
She stands over me, her dark hair blowing in the wind, her dark eyes boring into mine. I don’t dare blink for fear she’ll disappear.
She leans closer, giving me a peek down her tiny black tank top—but I’m more interested in her face. Her lips are twisted into an expression I can’t read. Half smile, half—She tackles me.
I know I should say something—do something—as she wraps her arms around me, but I’m still trying to process the fact that she’s actually here, nuzzling her head into the nook between my neck and shoulder. Her hair tickles my cheek and her lips graze my jaw. I tilt her chin up, bringing her mouth up to mine.
She stops me before the kiss but stays close enough that I can feel her smile.
She’s teasing me.
She knows it too, because she giggles against my cheek.
Since when does Audra giggle?
Before I can ask, she leans in and kisses me. Everything else drops away.
I’ve been waiting for this moment for weeks, but it’s different than I pictured, and not just because she’s lying on top of me—though that is a welcome addition.
Everything about her feels cold.
I feel myself shiver as her lips trail down my neck, and even when her skin touches mine, the rush between us feels more like pricks of ice.
I pull her closer, trying to warm her up—but why is she so cold?
I want to make sure she’s okay, but she kisses me harder—almost desperate—and I lose myself again, until I’m covered in head-to-toe goose bumps.
Since when does Audra kiss first and talk later?
And since when does she climb on top of me like she’s here to fulfill all my fantasies?
The last word feels like a slap to the face.
This is a dream.
But why aren’t I waking up? Why is she still pulling me against her, running her hands down my back—No.
It’s not her.
As much as I want it to be, there are no sparks, no heat.
With Audra there’s always heat.
This is a lie.
Another evil trap Raiden’s using to punish me.
I try to pull my mind free, but Audra fights back, locking her arms around me and kissing me again and again.
“No!” I shout, pushing her away.
She starts crying then. Telling me she loves me. Needs me. Can’t face another second without me. Everything I always wanted Audra to say.
“Not like this,” I whisper.
I want my strong, stubborn dream girl back, even if she’d attack me with questions—and probably a few wind tricks—long before she’d ever seduce me.
But that girl suddenly feels very far away.
Too far away. Like my consciousness has been dragged under by whatever wind Raiden sent, and no matter how much I beg my mind to wake up from this sick, twisted nightmare, I can’t find the way out.
I can’t move.
Audra crawls back to me, whispering that everything will be okay. She kisses my neck, my chin, my lips.
I want it to be real so badly.
Maybe if I just pretend . . .
A wicked pain rips through my finger and yanks me back to reality.
I peel open my eyes and find a panicked Gus leaning over me, my pinkie smashed between his teeth.
“You bit me?”
He unclenches his jaw and I stare at the jagged line of punctures in my skin.
“I tried everything else. I even punched you in the stomach. Biting was all I had left.”
I’m betting there was still a better option than chewing on my hand, but who knows? I can feel the sore spot on my stomach where he must’ve hit me—and I didn’t feel a thing. Raiden had me pretty good that time.
“How did you know where to find me?”
Gus rolls his eyes. “You really didn’t know I followed you? What kind of guardian do you think I am?”
I sigh, trying to figure out how I’m going to explain this mess to the Gales. But I guess it’s a good thing Gus isn’t as crappy at his job as I thought.
Panic stabs my heart, so sharp it knocks me out of the sky.
Red and black rims my vision, making it impossible to see which way is up or down. I call the nearest draft to catch me, shivering as the warm Southerly stops my fall.
I’ve never experienced this kind of pain before. A tempest deep in my core, growing stronger with every breath. It only rages harder when I realize what it means.
Vane’s in danger.
The word makes me tremble, and I order the wind to change direction, letting our bond point the way. The path to Vane is laced through my heart—but the connection feels so faint.
Getting weaker every second.
If something happens while I’m gone I’ll never forgive myself—I’ll never recover—I’ll never . . .
The thought has no end.
There will be nothing without Vane.
I call every nearby draft, commanding them to swell into a torrent. But I know it won’t be enough.
I close my eyes and search for a Westerly.
There are none within my reach, so I shout the call, not caring if it gives away my location. Still, it feels wrong branding the wind so boldly.
A tranquil breeze sweeps in from the west and I coil it around the others, struggling to decide which command to use. Combining drafts is a game of words—coaxing them to cooperate or daring them to rebel. I’ve practiced with the other winds for most of my life, but the Westerly tongue is new. A secret power I stole from Vane with our kiss. One I’ve barely begun to master.
“Come on,” I whisper, sending the plea to the sky. “Tell me what to do.”
All I hear is the pulse in my veins.
Tears streak down my cheeks and Vane’s face fills my mind. I can picture every curve, every line. The perfect blue of his eyes and the dark brown of his warm, earthy hair.
But it’s a thin shadow of the reality.
I can’t let this memory be all I have left.
I whisper, feeling the word sweep off my lips in the Westerly language.
“Please help me.”
The words are a breathy sigh mixed with a soft hiss, and the harder I concentrate on them, the more a cool rush builds in my mind, twisting and spinning until it shapes into a word.
I whisper, and all the winds tangle into a bubble around me.
The stars blur to streaks as I rush forward, and I tell myself that the power of four will help me reach him in time. But his trace still feels so distant.
Why did I run so far away?
I’m not sure where I am, but I know I’ve been flying north for weeks. Even with my frenzied speed, it’ll be hours before I reach him.
All I can do is hope and fly.
But after a few minutes the pain in my heart drains, leaving me cold and empty. The shock breaks my concentration and the winds carrying me unravel.
Vane’s not . . .
I can’t even think the word.
The searing pull of our bond returns, jolting my heart back to a rhythm and helping me regain enough control to grab an Easterly.
But I’ve fallen too far and there isn’t enough time to stop myself from crashing into cold, churning water.
Dark waves swell around me, nearly splattering me against four columns of rock that jut from the ocean near the shore. I steer myself away, struggling to keep my head above the water as the next wave washes me to the rocky sand. My body shivers as I gasp for breath, but I can’t feel the cold.
But my mind echoes with the only thought that matters.
Is he safe, though?
I can’t tell.
His trace feels steady but weak.
I try to get up, but my insides writhe and I roll to my knees, choking and gagging up the water I swallowed in the ocean. Sour bile coats my tongue and I spit it into the retreating waves until there’s nothing left. Still, I continue to heave, like my body is trying to purge all the dark, sickening truths I’ve been trying to deny.
I swore an oath to protect Vane.
Swore to train him and fight with him and ready him to be our king.
Bonding myself to him should’ve made me more willing to uphold that promise.
And yet, here I am, alone on a cold, empty beach, far away from him when he needed me most. I’m shaking so hard I barely manage to crawl out of the waves before my knees give out, leaving me facedown in the smooth, round rocks covering the beach.
The sharp ocean breezes nip at my tear-stained cheeks and I open my mind to their songs.
One is an Easterly—the winds of my heritage—singing the melody I used to search for, beg for, cling to with everything I had.
A gentle song about carrying on despite the turbulence all around.
For years I’ve wondered if the draft is some small part of my father. A hint of his presence that stayed behind to guide me, keep me fighting his battles for him. But since I learned my mother’s secrets, I’ve been hoping he’s really gone.
He loved my mother more than life. More than air. If he knew the truth—knew she sold our lives and the Westons’ for a wasted chance at freedom—it would destroy him.
“Go,” I whisper as the breeze dries my tears. “Don’t waste your time on me.”
The wind tangles tighter, lifting my head and forcing me to open my eyes and see that I’m not alone.
A white dove watches me from her roost on a piece of driftwood, her black eyes glittering in the moonlight. She coos as I sit up, begging me to reach for her. And for the first time in weeks, I do.
She hops onto my finger and nuzzles her beak against my thumb and I realize that I know this dove. She’s one of my mother’s messengers—the loyal birds who perched on her roof, waiting to carry her updates to the Gales.
She’s been following me since I left, and as I stroke her silky feathers, I feel her need—her craving for shelter now that my mother left her alone. It’s one of my gifts. Part of what I’ve been fighting, trying to resist the talent my mother and I shared.
But as I stare at this fragile creature, I realize how precious that connection is. How much I’ve missed it.
She flutters to my shoulder, bending her slender neck to peck at my necklace.
I left behind the jacket from my uniform, but I never removed the guardian pendant the Gales gave me. The cord is vivid blue, flowing with the life I breathed into it when it became mine.
My hand clutches the silver feather pendant, and somehow touching the cool, smooth metal gives me the courage to accept the truth.
“It’s time to go home,” I whisper, hoping I haven’t destroyed everything that matters by leaving.
The pull of my bond feels sharper than ever, so I have to believe Vane’s still safe. And soon enough I’ll be back to do my job.
The dove flaps her wings and takes to the sky, circling above me as I stand and dust off my sandy clothes. I reach for my hair and smooth it back, hesitating only a second before I divide it into five equal sections and weave them into a tight, intricate braid.
The style of a guardian.
I am a guardian.
And I’ll never let myself forget it again.