Necia Phoenix

SF & Fantasy Writer

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Announcement

OK, so the house we’re in has a ceiling caving in, multiple bathroom leaks and a landlord who is unwilling to fix it. While I’ve gone to court to try to force him to fix it, that has done nothing to help the situation (but given us LOTS of headaches) and we’re just DONE.

IMG_1278 the master bathroom started losing tiles about a month after we moved in.

IMG_1284Due to leaks from the UPSTAIRS bathroom, my ONE cupboard is falling off the wall.

IMG_1286My upstairs bathroom’s access panel which the landlord refuses to send a contractor to fix. We now have a leak (again) from this same pipe and everytime the kids take a shower I end up with 2 inches of water on my kitchen floor.

IMG_1290This is the kitchen ceiling. That panel fell down Summer 2013. They STILL haven’t fixed it

IMG_1281The other part of my kitchen ceiling. Mind you, my oldest is 6’5, that ceiling brushes his hair when he walks under it. And it has sagged even further since this picture was taken one month ago.

 

SO.  We just landed another house. We’re packing our things, and getting ready to move this next weekend. I’ve got to gather kid stuffs for transfering schools etc etc…

I’m trying to nail down the next couple chapters of the serial so I can schedule them before the move. I don’t know how long I’ll be internet silent, though I’ll be on twitter.

I apologize for the hiccups with the serial. This summer has been one of the most challenging I’ve had.

NPhoenix.

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 14

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Chapter 14

Twisted pillars of metal stuck out of a mound of huge boulders. At its base, shadowed by debris, was a collection of blackened and burned buildings, surrounded by a broken wooden fence. The old gate lay on the ground, half covered by dust and dirt. An old and tattered Nekarian flag fluttered in the mild breeze, hanging from a leaning pole stabbed into a pile of blackened bones just inside the gate.

Tier pulled his horse to a stop, staring at the bones.

“It looks like Chiron forgot a few details.” He murmured. He looked at Xin. She was shaking her head. “He said nothing about this.”

“They flattened the village, didn’t they?” Xin asked softly.

Tier looked away, unable to meet her eyes, and dismounted. He needed to take a closer look. He went cautiously around the bones, not wanting to disturb them. He didn’t see any wisps, but he felt them, watching. Waiting.

“Tier, why would Chiron do this?” Rale’s voice was loud in the eerie silence.

“Why does Chiron do anything?” He glanced back. Rale and Xin were leading the horses through the gate, following Tier’s path. Tier saw a movement in the rocks beyond them. The boy was still following them. He chuckled and turned back to the village, carefully moving through the single street.

At the far end of the street was the local small temple. A shrine to the gods, and the only building untouched by fire. A parchment was nailed to the door. The sound of gravel beneath his feet was loud in his ears. He hesitated, when he reached it, glancing around. No wisps. No ghosts. He shook off his unease and straightened out the faded and partially rolling parchment. He frowned, scanning over the old edict.

“What does it say?” Xin asked at his elbow. He glanced down at her, she was facing the street.

“Just a decree that the Seeress ordered this village closed.” He stumbled over the last word and looked around at the burned out huts and finally at the distant pile of bones. “I don’t understand it. The canyon folk are poor, though their work in the mines made many a merchant rich.”

“Perhaps there was an uprising.” Rale suggested.

Tier shrugged. “I don’t recall hearing anything. According to Chiron they were descendants of the Air elementals. That rubble is what’s left of Hyrfett.”

“That’s why.” Xin said looking up at him. “She wanted to get rid of anyone who might be an air elemental.”

“And then send him to go locate one?” Rale asked. “Doesn’t make sense.”

Tier moved down the steps of the small temple and made his way towards the pile of bones. He felt a whisper of power being used. He turned scanning the buildings. It wasn’t the earth boy when he’d used his ability, it felt solid. This barely brushed against his mind. He felt it again, further away, then it faded.

“Tier?” Xin touched his arm. “What is it?”

He shook his head. “Thought I,” he stopped. In the doorway of one of the burned out huts stood the pale outline of a child. Tier swallowed. The outline got thicker, the form more solid. It was a little girl, watching him. Her ghostly hair moving in the wind. “Thought I heard something.”

Xin narrowed her eyes and glanced towards the house. “Do you,”

“No.” he said curtly and strode back towards the horses. He needed to get out of this place. The longer they were there, the greater chance for him to see the souls of those massacred. Neither Rale nor Xin argued with him about heading towards the crossroads further south.

“You can travel openly with us and get a share of our provisions or creep behind us like a wild animal taking our scraps. It’s your choice.” He called to the boy hiding in the ruins. There was no reply, no sound and Tier shrugged, pulling himself up on his horse.

He led them back south towards the distant crossroads and away from the little ghost girl who still watched him from the door of the house.

 

 

The crossroads was a dry dusty square with old iron cages hanging from a set of large, man-made wooden frames. There were remains of people still in the cages and Xin would have preferred to keep going but Tier called a halt, voice sharp. Rale said a few choice words in Nekarian as he dismounted and for a moment Xin’s breath caught. Tier glared at him but said nothing.

Xin went about helping them set up camp listening as they snapped back and forth. Rale finally snarled something and went towards the cages, muttering under his breath. Xin took a deep breath and went over to Tier who was glaring after his cousin.

“You are being a total ass, you know that?” She said.

He looked at her. “I am, am I?”

“You’ve been short with him,” she jerked her head towards Rale. “Since we left the burned out village.” he snorted and turned to leave but she grabbed his arm. “Oh no, don’t go walking away. You saw something, what?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Tier,”

“It has no bearing with right now.”

She shook her head. “You are an awful liar.”

He ran his hand through his hair not meeting her eyes. “There was a ghost child just watching us. Those people were poor, there was no uprising, they were murdered in their sleep.”

Xin let her hand drop. “It wasn’t your doing, Tier, it’s not your fault.”

His lips pressed together. “No, but it was men like me who did it. I don’t think any of them questioned it. Not a single one.” He met her gaze before turning and walking away.

Xin watched him for a moment, then went to the small simple fire and sat, staring at the flames.

 

Tier stirred the fire, glancing over at his companions. Rale was facing away from the fire and snoring. Xin was facing the fire, sleeping. He stood, glancing out at the darkness that was pressed against the firelight. He didn’t see any spirits, for once, but he did see the huddled shape just beyond the ring of firelight. He lifted the water skin shaking it lightly, the water sloshed loud in the still silence.

“You must be thirsty.” He said softly, not wanting to wake the others.

No sound though he was certain the boy was listening.

“We won’t hurt you. I’d like to talk to you.” Movement, the child crept closer.

“Why?” the voice was rough, cracked.

Tier set the water down and moved closer to the fire where he sat, legs crossed staring at the shadows beyond the wall of darkness.

“I have never met an Earth Elemental before.” Tier admitted. “I was told there were none.”

The boy crept into the light, picking up the water skin with trembling hands. He drank quickly, throat moving with each swallow. Water dribbled from the corner of his mouth. When he lowered it Tier got a good look at the boy’s face. Swollen, dark bruises under his skin. One eye was swollen shut and his nose looked broken and he was studying Tier as much as Tier was studying him.

“We have to hide.” The boy said, dropping to a crouch.

“How’d they discover you?”

“Rocks falling.” The boy looked down, trailing his fingers in the dirt. “Don’t wanna talk about it.” He glanced to Tier’s right then back. “Where are you going?”

“Not sure.” Tier admitted. “Trying to decide. I’m supposed to find an Air Elemental and a Fire Elemental.”

“The Air Elementals fled to Sandau.”

Tier blinked several times. “What?”

“Legends. Nekar marched against Hyrfett and those who survived, fled to Sandau. At least that’s what the elders said, when the priests weren’t around. They say the Fire Lords of Sandau protected them.”

Tier stared, dumbfounded. “So outside of Nekar, this is common knowledge?” he wasn’t directing the question at the boy, but Geb nodded.

“The elders believe the power to move the rocks comes from evil spirits.” Geb leaned forward. “They believe it will destroy the world if it is used, that it will release the ancient demons from slumber.”

“The spirits have nothing to do with those powers.” Tier said, his mind running in circles. What the hell was he going to do?

“It’s like breathing.” The boy held out his hand and a group of small pebbles floated up, a solid rumble of power rippled across Tier’s mind as the pebbles spun in a slow circle.

“Amazing.”

The pebbles dropped with a clatter and the boy looked at him startled. “Just pebbles…”

“And I have to actually reach down and pick them up.” He did so, scooping a small handful of little rocks.

The boy shrugged glancing away. Tier followed his gaze and smiled. Xin.

“She can do amazing things with water.” The boy said, voice hushed. He looked at Tier guiltily. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“She harbors no ill will against you.” Tier said.

Geb nodded, yawning. Tier stood and went to his pack. He turned towards the boy, handing him his cloak.

“Go lay down, get some rest. It’s been a long day.”

The boy looked at the cloak then back up at Tier. “Thank you.”

Tier shrugged settling on his sleeping roll. It was a long time before he was able to get to sleep.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, Aug 19th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 13

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Chapter 13

The canyons were a maze of narrow passages winding through rock. Etched out by rivers, ages past, they’d always unnerved him as a youth. Tier followed the footprints in the dirt, trying not to think too hard about what he did. If he gave it too much thought, he’d make himself go insane.

The boy’s trail led them along a narrow path that led down into a steep ravine. Tier halted, considering. The boy’s abilities might have killed someone. Tier dismounted, staring towards the edge of the ledge. They’d need to be careful. Tier didn’t look at Rale and Xin when they caught up. They were full of questions and he had no answers.

“What did you just do?” Rale demanded, dismounting. “That,”

“We don’t have time to discuss it.” Tier crouched near the edge of the ledge, staring down at the river winding between pillars of stone far below. The path down was a paler rock than the surrounding stones, and crisscrossed, back and forth down to the ravine floor. He frowned, stood and stepped back. Power rippled across his mind. A loud crack echoed through the canyons and the path broke from the cliff wall, tumbling to the ravine floor below.

“I glad you weren’t on that!” Xin said, touching his arm. She glanced down into the ravine.

“Me too.” Tier frowned.

“He’s right by the river.” She looked back at Tier. “Is there another way down?”

“I don’t know.” Tier scanned the area. There were other high canyon passages. “This place is a maze.”

Xin nodded and stretched her hands out, palms down. Tier watched, trickling power, a whisper in his head, accompanied her hand gestures. She raised her hands up over her head, rotating her hands till they were palm up. A thin stream of water lifted crept upwards.  She spread her fingers and the water gained a flat mushroom-like top. Xin nodded, glancing at him.

“What are you doing?” Rale asked, his voice hushed. She grinned and clenched her hands into fists. There was an odd crackling sound and Tier realized the water hardened into thick ice that glistened under the sun.

“Watch my horse will you?” She didn’t wait for an answer, instead stepping onto the flat ice and lowered her hands. The water platform sank back down to the ravine.

Tier swore.

“Did you know she could do that?” Rale whispered.

“No.” Tier shook his head. “No I didn’t.”

 

Xin’s heart pounded as she stepped from the ice platform onto the narrow sandy bank. The boy backed up, his mouth open in a perfect ‘o’. His ebony skin glistened under the sunlight, his tight, curly hair filthy and twig ridden.

Xin eyed him, noting the blood dripping from a split lip and his left eye so swollen she doubted he could see out of it. He crouched, baring his teeth like an animal and growling.

“Can you speak Dhaul? Or Common Nekar?” Xin asked. She stayed near the water, feeling the current.

The boy held out his hand, a large rock wobbled and lifted. He made a fist and the rock shot towards her. She pulled water from the river, knocking it aside before it hit her face. The water and rock hit the cliff, the rock clattering to the sand.

Xin directed another stream of water towards the child, knocking him into the water. She raised her hands, the water lifted him out of the river and set him back on the river bank. She pulled all the water from his ragged clothes, removing dirt, blood, and debris. When she stepped back, she struggled to catch her breath. The boy lifted his hands, turning them back and forth, his eyes wide

“I don’t want to hurt you. Do you understand?” Xin tried again, hoping he wouldn’t try to fight anymore. She was tired, she’d never used her abilities in this way.

The boy sneered and crouched, fists in front of him. He said something, his words unfamiliar to her.

“I don’t understand.” She spread her hands out in front of her, hoping it wasn’t threatening to him. He pointed to the water and said something else, punctuating each word with a stomp that sent ripples through the ground.

“That man up there just saved your life.” Xin said. “He also saved mine. The least you can do is thank him.”

Pebbles lifted from the ground, wobbling, and the boy snarled. Xin shook her head, walking away from the boy, along the river.

“He’s on a mission for the Seeress of Nekar.” She said glancing over her shoulder. “She wants him to find elementals.” A pebble was flung her way. She directed water between her and it, freezing and dragging the pebble back to the river. She turned and looked at the boy. “Nice try.”

Pebbles began flying in her direction and she moved a wall of water between her and the boy, freezing it as the pebbles hit it. A larger rock smashed through the ice and Xin leapt out of the way, landing hard on the sand.

She stood up, lifted her hands, and directed the water to coil around the boy. A stone flew her way and she didn’t move fast enough. It glanced off her forehead and she stumbled, stunned and dizzy, the water splashing. She touched her temple, and looked at her fingers. Crimson. She wiped her fingers on her tunic. Water erupted from the river, wound around the kid and froze. She stomped over to him glaring.

“I’m done being nice.” She snapped.

“Are you gonna kill me now?” He spoke common Nekarian, his voice cracked and low.

Xin blinked several times. Her anger faded and her heart twisting. This was just a child after all. “You can speak a language I understand.”

He said nothing, but two large tears dripped down his cheek.

“Can you make another walkway come down from the cliffs up there?”

He closed his one good eye.

“No one is going to kill you.” She lowered him down and pushed the water back to the river. He looked up blinking.

“My people,”

“Tier ran them off.” Xin glanced up the cliff side, far above Tier and Rale waited. She swallowed looking back at the boy.

“The big man?”

Xin nodded and wiped her face with her hand, staring at the smear of red on her fingers.

“I’m sorry.” the child crept backwards. Xin eyed him, tired.

“What is your name?”

He looked down, using his long toes to make paths in the dirt.

“I can’t just call you boy.”

“Geb.” He said glancing up at her. “I have no family name.”

“Earth shaper Geb, I am Xin.” She held out her hand. The boy looked at her hand then looked up at her. She lowered it. “Okay. The man who stopped your people, he was sent on a mission to find elementals.”

“Why?”

“He wasn’t told.”

The boy sneered at her. “And you want me to join you?”

She studied him. He was older than she first thought he was, though small and thin. Twelve maybe? Ten? “How old are you?”

He said nothing but held out his hand. Xin took a step back, fighting her aching head. She wasn’t sure she could do another battle. Around them the small rocks began to shift and bounce on the ground. From the cliff face a wide pathway shot out, winding back and forth. Xin stared at it and looked down at Geb.

“Thank you. I owe them my life. That is why I go with them. They haven’t harmed me in any way.”

Geb swallowed, running a boney hand over his face. Xin wanted to hand him her rations, but they were in her pack, on her horse. It was criminal how thin he was. “I don’t believe you.”

“Then stay.” Xin turned and stepped on the stone, glancing over her shoulder. “You’ll be lonely down here, but if that’s what you prefer, then good day.”

 

She picked her way up the steep slope, aware that Geb was following her a discrete distance behind. She didn’t look behind her until she stepped onto the ledge, but she couldn’t see the boy. Tier gripped her arm pulling her from the ledge edge.

“Next time warn us before you do something like that.” His voice odd. He pressed a cloth against her temple. “That looks nasty.”

“I didn’t have time to warn you.” She glanced at the boy who was creeping up the path poking over the cliff, but Tier put his hand under her chin making her look back at him as he dabbed at the wound. She scowled. “It’s not deep!”

“It’s still bleeding bad.” Rale handed Tier another bandage. Xin batted at them both, scowling.

“I’m fine.” She met Tier’s narrow gaze.

“The boy?”

“His name is Geb. He was panicking.” She glanced back towards the ledge. She couldn’t see him, though she felt he was there.

“How badly was he injured?” Tier asked gruffly, stepping back.

“Busted lip, one eye looks swollen shut, and thin. Tier, he looked almost skeletal.” She looked back towards the ledge. “He didn’t seem interested in coming with us.”

“We can leave some of the rations and water,” Rale said, shuffling through the bags.

“Good idea.” Tier went to his own pack and pulled out a spare tunic. “Didn’t look like he had many clothes either. It gets cold out here at night.”

Xin turned towards the ledge, hoping to see the boy.

“The canyons are no place to stay.” Tier called.

“There are hiding places.” The boy growled back, though he was still hidden.

“Aside from what we’ll leave behind, there’s no food, very little water,” Tier crouched, setting the folded tunic on the ground and taking the water skin and rations from Rale. “We have more, are traveling on to other safer places. You’d have a better chance with us than without.”

“You have a great gift!” Rale added. “I’d like to see more of what you can do.”

A hiss drifted from the rocks, but the boy didn’t show himself.

Tier turned, expression thoughtful. “Let’s give him space. The water and food won’t last long. If we backtrack we’ll find the old road. If Chiron’s maps were right, it should lead straight to Hyrfett.” He looked at Xin. “Do you need to sit down before we continue?”

“I’m fine Tier, just tired. Hey!” Hands on her waist, he lifted her up. She swung her leg over her horse’s back, grabbing at its mane, getting herself settled. When she looked back, Tier was walking back to where his horse waited patiently.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Aug 14th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth Chapter 12

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

To Xin’s relief, Lord Chiron was absent from the courtyard when they gathered in the cool pre-dawn. Lady Vieno stood serenely at the base of the steps. Her eyes sad, though she smiled at Xin.

“There are rumors from the south, that there are tribal people gathering near the canyons.” She said, turning to Tier. He nodded, tightening the girth of one of the horse’s saddles.

“Any idea why?” Rale asked.

“There were whispers about an Earth Elemental.” Vieno shook her head. “I don’t believe it though. More likely there is some tribal skirmish.”

“Elementals are extinct, right?” Rale grinned at her.

“Perhaps.” Vieno’s smile faded. “When I was a child I saw an Earth Elemental lift a wall of rock between her and some attackers.”

“What happened to her?” Tier asked.

“She was executed.” Vieno said shortly. She handed him several water skins. “Stay on the main roads, avoid the tribal people. They have gotten very aggressive in recent years.”

“Anything else?”

“Just visit more often.” Vieno gave a low bow and smiled again at Xin before turning and making her way up the wide steps.

They filed out of the courtyard in silence, walking through the dingy city streets towards the tall gates. Once they left the city, making their way along the well-worn dusty path Rale called a halt.

He eyed Tier. “You’re planning on going to the old town, aren’t you?”

“Do you want to go back to the Seeress and tell her that we heard a rumor of an Earth Elemental but didn’t look into it?”

The silence stretched. Rale stared off towards the distant cliffs and swore under his breath.

“I didn’t think so.” Tier turned his horse back around and led them down another narrower path. Xin and Rale exchanged dubious looks but followed. Scrub-brush and priest-trees dotted the sandy landscape, the branches of the priest trees reached up towards the clear blue sky, a plea perhaps for water? She felt no moisture, no call of water. They picked their way along the old path, making their way cautiously through old gullys and a dried up river bed.

Distance was tricky. What looked like it should have only taken a few hours at most to reach the mountains, by nightfall the mountains loomed in the distance, and Tier called a halt.

“We should reach it by midday tomorrow.” He dismounted.

“How does anyone survive in this place?” Xin asked, following his lead. They talked as they prepared the small camp; a small clearing with some deadwood around the edges.

“How? Hells with how, why? What’s here?” Rale indicated the dried scraggly brush. “The only water controlled by Chiron, or whoever sits as Governor. Can’t grow food, why would anyone bother?”

“Gold.” Tier pointed towards the mountains. “There’s gold and other rare minerals in the mountains. It costs to keep the Empire running. Delebeg has some of the richest mines in the world.”

Xin shook her head. “The pursuit of gold, what a waste. Personally I’d like a nice dip in a stream.”

“The river used to wind all the way to the northwest canyons.” Tier said. “When I was here as a youth, we went up to the dried out lake. I remember Vieno talking about how the lake dried up during the war of the Elementals.”

“I heard her say that once the whole Delebeg region was a forest too. Ages ago.” Rale looked at Xin. “In the center of the city is a huge tree stump, as big as a house.”

“Old legends say that when the tree sprouts again, Delebeg will be freed of the empire.” Tier snorted. “One hears all sorts of odd things when one is creeping through hidden passages.”

“I thought those passageways were just rumor!” Rale whistled. “Wish I’d known that before we left.”

“I’m sure you do. I found them after arriving here.” Tier grinned. “I was a bit troublesome when I got here, I was trying to find a ways out of the palace.”

“Why were you sent up here?” Xin asked.

“Maen and I wouldn’t stop fighting, and father got tired of having to separate us.” Tier rubbed the bridge of his nose, sheepishly. “It got a little bit violent.”

“I heard there was some sort of knife fight.” Rale commented.

“There was that too.” Tier shrugged. “I told you, we never got along.”

 

It took her a long time to finally fall asleep, the heat of the day had turned to a bone chilling night. She dreamed of a river winding through the Delebeg valley. It was not the dry and dead desert, instead it was a lush forest. In the center of the valley towered a tree, taller than any she’d seen before. There was a loud, steady pounding, like a heartbeat. And with each strike the land changed. From green to brown, and the tree whithered.

She half sat up, blinking blearily towards the fire. The pounding didn’t cease with her waking. She heard it, in the distance.

“What is that?” She startled herself asking it aloud.

“They’re a long ways away, Xin.” Tier said. He stood on the edge of the circle of firelight, facing the dark. The firelight glinted off his sword. “You might as well go back to sleep.”

She could hear yelling in the distance, almost yipping like wild dogs. “I don’t know that I can with that. Do you know what they are saying?

“No.” He looked her way, the shadows hiding his features, giving him a far older look. “They resist most interaction with the Empire, except for the Seeress and her priests.”

“So they adhere to her laws.” She frowned.

“Usually.” He looked back into the dark. “There hasn’t been an uprising in recent years, that I’ve heard about, though Chiron complained about them.”

“I don’t like Chiron. He’s greasy.” Xin admitted.

Tier chuckled. “He is.” The drums pounded on. “Try to get back to sleep.”

 

The village was a collection of mud huts, divided by the road that led to the cliffs. Blocking the road, garbed in an assortment of rags and leather, were villagers in a circle around something huddled on the ground. The villagers parted, allowing them to pass, though they glared at them. Xin swallowed, eyes locked on the small figure on the ground. A child. They’d encircled a child.

A thin, wiry man carrying a spear decorated with bones and feathers, stepped between Tier and the child. He pointed the spear at Tier, rattling something off in in a language she couldn’t understand. She looked sharply at Tier who pointed at the man then towards the scrub brush.

The man shook his spear, feathers and bones rattling loudly, yelling.

“Tier this isn’t a good situation.” Rale hissed.

“He’s a child, Rale.” Tier pointed at the huddled form. “We can’t let them kill him, elemental or not.”

The child pushed up, crouching low, dark eyes staring at them. He flung his arm up. Solid rock shot up from the ground, leaving a crater, and flew through the air towards the assembled. The crowd scattered, screaming. Xin’s horse jerked and she hit the ground, the air in her lungs whooshing out. She gasped rolling to one side as the boy ran down the old street towards the narrow opening in the cliffs that led to the canyons.

The tribal people were yelling around her and Xin was hauled to her feet.

“You hurt?” Tier’s voice was loud against her ear.

“I’m fine. He ducked into the canyons.” She looked around, Rale had her horse and Tier’s and was still mounted. Tier had drawn his sword and jerked his head towards her horse.

“Get ready to ride.”

She nodded, shaking as she pulled herself back up on her horse. Tier backed up slowly.

“Your interference has cost us dearly.” The old man hobbled towards them. Tier towered over the man, pointing his sword at him.

“From this point on this is an Imperial matter.” Tier’s voice was low but the man in front blinked several times, his body weaving back and forth. “The road is Imperial territory and you and your people are trespassing. Be gone.” The last two words were accompanied by a rolling power, a low whisper that skittered across Xin’s senses. It wasn’t directed at her, rather the group watching them, but it made her tremble. Imperials weren’t supposed to have that kind of power. The tribesmen’s eyes glazed and they turned and stumbled out into the brush.

Xin’s horse sidestepped uneasily and she glanced at Rale who was slowly shaking his head, eyes wide.

“How the hell?” Rale stared at Tier.

“Let’s go.” Tier said curtly, remounting. He turned his horse and took off at a rolling canter, following the child’s path. Xin and Rale exchanged stunned looks.

“How did he do that?” She whispered.

“I have no idea.”

~*~

 

The next chapter will be posted Tues, Aug 5th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 11

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 Chapter 11

“She said you’re on a mission for the Seeress.” Vieno said, her voice low. Tier glanced towards her then back to his bags.

“I am.” He closed his travel bag, meeting her eyes. “There wasn’t an option to turn her down.”

“Why you?” Vieno clasped her hands together, shaking her head. “No, what goes on in the mind of the Seeress is known only to her. What has she sent you for?”

“Vieno,”

“Tier.”

Tier glanced around the room. It looked secure, but Chiron’s home was riddled with old passages and hidden niches. There could be any number of listeners. He held out his hands, Vieno nodded, moving over to the wall, pressing her palm against the stucco.

“There are old secrets, some that should never be overheard.” Vieno met his eyes. Light flared up under her palm, streaking out on either side, bathing the room in a soft red glow. She looked up at him, her lip twitching.

“How did you do that?” He asked. She shook her head.

“It would take too long to explain. What has the Seeress asked you to do?”

“She ordered me to locate elementals.”

“What?”

“And bring them back to her to help mend the world.” Tier ran a hand through his hair.

“Mend the world?”

“That’s what she said.” Tier felt his stomach twist. Now, miles away from the seeress it felt a very thin explanation. Vieno paced slowly not meeting his eyes.

“She wiped out the elementals, generations ago.” She said. “There’s another reason she wants you to bring them to her. It’s impossible, there are no more.”

“That’s what I thought.” Tier said slowly. Vieno halted and looked at him. Her eyes widened as it struck her. She nodded.

“I see.” Vieno pressed her fingers together in front of her.

“I can’t figure out what I’m missing.” He admitted.

“She sent you to Dhaul?” Vieno scowled.

“Aye. But gave us no indication as to where we needed to go next. We figured that the earth shapers were originally from this area, so we came here. Not sure where to go from here though.”

“It’s futile, Tier. There have not been reports of Earth Shapers since I was a child. And as far as I know there are no more air weavers.” Vieno’s eyes narrowed. “The fire wielders were all in the Sandau and plains region, as far as I know there are none.”

“There were rumors in Jacktor that the Lord of Sandau is a fire lord.”

Vieno waved her hand, shaking her head. “No, we would have heard such news here. There’s something she didn’t tell you.”

“I worry that this isn’t,” he hesitated. “The honorable path.”

“You question her?” Vieno asked softly.

Tier swallowed. “Not exactly.”

“One can be loyal to Nekar, but not to her, you know.” She said it softly. Tier stared at her, the words echoing in his head.

“She is Nekar.” He murmured.

“I don’t believe that. And neither do you.”

“Just saying that can get me killed, Vieno.”

“Serving her, will get you killed.” She touched his hand.

“Perhaps. I doubt that she’d call on the Imperial household just to kill me off though.” Tier pointed out.

Vieno inclined her head. “This is true.” She pressed her hand against the wall again and the color faded. “Sleep well, dear one.”

She was gone before he could say goodnight.

 

Vieno hurried through the old city, stepping gingerly over sprawled drunks and piles of rubbish, her mind whirring. She barely glanced at the archway she ducked beneath, though she paused, looking around once before sliding behind the ragged cloth that hung over the doorway. Two men inside stood, startled and hastily bowed.

“Lady Vieno, we weren’t expecting,”

“Do you have a runner available?” She asked. She didn’t have much time, her absence couldn’t be noticed.

“Yes my lady, but,”

“I need you to send this to Lorn.” She held out a small black feather. Both men frowned.

“A feather?”

“The recipient will know its meaning.” She pierced the men with a cold look. “Can your runner leave now?”

“Of course I can!” A slender man stepped into the room from the hall, bowing deeply. He took the feather from her staring at it with narrow eyes before looking at her. “It cracks?”

“Slightly. You have a name?”

“Anil, my lady. At your service.” He bowed again. Vieno smiled. Yes, this one would do nicely. “This must be delivered to,” He held out his hand.

“Ambassador Xeresel.” Vieno clasped her hands in front of her. “It is vital you get this to him, as quickly as possible.”

He tucked the feather into a bag which he hung on his belt.

“When you return, report to me directly at the palace.”

“Yes my lady.” He gave his fellows a salute, bowed again to Vieno, and ducked out the door.

Vieno nodded, glancing at the two startled men. “You didn’t see me.”

“Of course not, my lady.” They sat, backs to the doorway.

She slipped from the room, glancing around. Anil was nowhere to be seen. She took a deep breath and began to make her way back to the palace.

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 31st.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth Chapter 10

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Chapter 10

“I behaved poorly, your highness, I beg your forgiveness.” Lord Chiron said.

“You were drunk.” Tier shrugged, not looking up from the stack of maps he was going through. He had little patience for the man. “It happens.”

“I trust your traveling companion is not too upset?”

Tier lifted an old, worn parchment. “If your wife hadn’t dropped her food on you, Xin would’ve.” He glanced up at Chiron, smiling. “You deserved it cousin.”

“Indeed.” Chiron gritted out. Tier ignored his glare, shuffling through the collection of maps and scrolls. “I’m not entirely sure I understand what you are looking for. You’ve never been an academic type.”

Tier leaned back, drumming his fingers on the table. “The Seeress,” He hesitated. Chiron didn’t need the details. “Asked me to look into something for her, however she was vague on some of the details. Sandau was our next planned stop, but if your military advisers were correct,”

“They are.” Chiron snapped. “The Emperor is aware of the situation and told us to take the fort anyways!”

“Then Sandau is out of the question.” Tier ignored Chiron’s grumbling. “I saw a map in the south, showing cities I’ve never seen before.”

“There were northern territories, once we traded with them, if history is to be believed. There has not been trade or any kind of communication with those territories in generations.” Chiron pulled a map from the stack of parchments Tier hadn’t gotten to. “Look,” he set the map in front of Tier. “Some say they were elemental run cities. Others say they were fortresses of the great dragons. I think they’re naught but ruin.”

Tier peered at the map, beyond the canyons to the north, several large marks, the names faded and worn.

“Absolutely infuriating. What we need is a good assassin to take out that damned Corrin and the others that are keeping our forces from taking the fort.” Chiron was pacing.

“I don’t know that a commander from a backwater country like Sandau would be, in father’s eyes, worth sending an assassin.” Tier pointed out.

“That’s what you said yesterday.” Chiron paused by the window looking out. “I hardly think Sandau a backwater country, and I think that the Emperor should rethink our position. It is a dangerous nation, waiting for a moment of weakness. Delebeg is not the strongest territory of the Empire. If Sandau decided to move in our direction,” he held out his hands.

“Then the might of the Empire would be brought down on their asses.” Tier shrugged it off. He’d sat in Chiron’s war meeting, his suggestions, based off of his own experiences were ignored.

“On three separate occasions I was ordered to take the damn fort. Each time Corrin managed a minor miracle and we find ourselves slinking back, tail tucked between our legs.” Chiron sipped at a glass of the purple wine he favored. “I received several letters, from the Emperor and one from the Seeress herself, telling me to take the damned fort.” He glared at Tier. “Each time that bitch out-thinks Delebeg’s finest.”

Tier bit the inside of his lip, restraining himself. He wanted to get out of Delebeg, out of the heat and the acid atmosphere, away from his damnable cousin.

“I gave my advice, yesterday. It’s not my problem.” He tapped the map, tired of talk of the fort. We’ll go through the canyons and make for one of those old cities.” He murmured, gut twisting. “What city is this?”

“The locals called it Hyrfett.” Chiron went back to the arched window, staring down at the gardens through the white lattice work. “Once Delebeg was the capital of the Earth Elementals. Air Weavers, or floaters, had a city suspended above the canyon.”

“I’ve never heard of it.” Tier regarded Chiron in surprise. He’d never thought that Chiron would have been well versed in any kind of folklore.

“Neither had I till we chased a band of ruffians into the canyons in the early days of my being sentenced here. We found a village at the base of a massive rubble pile. The villagers said the last stand of the Air Weavers was made there. Said the Nekarian army took out the rock supports with false fire in the middle of the night and collapsed the whole damn thing.” He sipped from his wineglass and shook his head. “I think taking a look at that rubble is worth it.”

“I’m not really one for architecture.” Tier stood and joined Chiron by the window, glancing down at the private gardens below. He tensed, following Chiron’s gaze. Xin sat beside one of the fountains, elbow on the marble staring at the water looking bored. She was surrounded by the other ladies of the household, with Vieno hovering nearby. She wore a dress similar to the one at dinner, though this was a pale blue. Her hair hung loose, the light shining off it gave a hint of blue. She straightened and stood, responding to something Vieno said.

“She is exquisite, cousin. I dare say she held the dining hall captivated last night.” Chiron’s voice was admiring. Tier forced a smile, unable to tear his eyes from her as she edged away from the other women. “Dhaulain I am guessing?”

“Yes.” Tier went to the liquor board, pouring a small glass of brandy. He didn’t drink often, too easy to drink too much, but he had to do something. He rejoined Chiron at the window.

“Whose bed does she grace?” Chiron asked archly. “Yours? Or Rale’s?”

“Neither.” Tier gritted his teeth, setting the brandy down on the windowsill untouched. “Why do you ask, you’re married.”

“That hasn’t stopped me before.” Chiron sipped again from his wineglass. “She should be taught the respect of her betters, you know.”

Tier took a deep breath fighting the urge to shove Chiron’s wineglass down his throat, or up his ass. “The only one to be teaching her that lesson would be me.” He forced his voice to be cold, as an Imperial should be.

Chiron looked at him startled, a mocking smile flickered at his lips. “Can I consider this a claim, cousin?”

“Consider it whatever you want to, Lord Chiron. I will not restrain myself from taking off your hand if you touch her.” Tier stepped forward, shamelessly using his heavier frame to crowd Chiron, forcing the other man to step back.

Chiron’s eyes widened, jaw clenched. “Fancy you finding interest in a slip of a peasant slut.” he spat the last and Tier struggled with a sudden surge of rage. He forced himself to take a deep breath.

“You have presumed much, in this short time, and have tried my patience.” Tier gritted out. “Even in the Imperial War College in Lorn, the complaints of the women of your household have been heard. We’re guests, passing through on a mission that is none of your business. If you want to pursue something, pursue reconciliation with your wife. It might make your bedroom life better. You go near Xin, I won’t stop myself. Got it?”

Blood drained from Chiron’s face and he swallowed several times. “Yes, your highness.” he finally croaked out.

Tier studied him before turning back to the table and its stack of letters and things. “We’ll dine in my quarters this eve, to save you the hassle.” Tier locked eyes on his cousin. “Is that acceptable?”

“Of course, your Highness.” Chiron spoke through gritted teeth. “Whatever you desire.”

Tier tucked the map into his vest and left. He needed to move, get some fresh, non-dry air. And to get space between him and that sniveling worm.

 

The women of Chiron’s household had long decided she was not interesting. Their talk, consisting of court and household gossip and clothing styles, bored Xin to the core. She considered flicking some water at them, but there were too many eyes and she couldn’t risk exposure. Instead she half listened to their talk, watching the ripples in the water and the small flying insects that came to drink. She looked up when they fell silent and smiled. Tier barely acknowledged them, nodding at Vieno.

“We need to talk.” He motioned the walking path that wound through the garden. Xin was relieved to see him. He was a rock in a sea of uncertainty.

“Problems?” She peered up at him.

“Not exactly.”

She nodded tensing slightly when he rested his hand on her lower back guiding her past whispering women and down the tree lined walkway. The heat from his palm, his arm brushing her side and shoulder made her heart pound. It annoyed her to have such reactions to him. Rale didn’t send her heart pounding, nor did he grace her dreams at night. Tier was an imperial prince, for all she knew he was married or betrothed to some fine noblewoman. She had to keep that in mind. But it was hard to remember when the slightest touch sent her thoughts into a tailspin.

“Something wrong?” She asked, glancing up at him. She could see the tension in his face, feel it through his touch. Once they got a distance from the fountain he stepped away, pacing in the small clearing. Fear filled her. “Did my outburst cause you trouble?”

“No.” He said quickly, staring at her. “Not at all.” His dark eyes intense, several times he looked as if her were about to speak before he sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose. Xin bit her cheek to keep from smiling, he looked almost flustered. “We’ll be leaving in the morning. I gave Chiron orders to allow our to dine in my quarters. Less formal, fewer eyes.”

“Fewer food fights?” Xin asked, snickering. He chuckled. “Will we be heading to Sandau then?”

“We’ll discuss it at dinner.” He sank onto the bench. “There are to many mice here.”

Xin blinked and nodded, of course, spies. “Things aren’t what they seem here, are they?”

“Nothing is. No matter where you go.” He shrugged. “I want to get back to south.”

Xin swallowed. “Homesick?”

A shudder ran through him and he shook his head. “Not exactly. I left mid siege and have been on the road. I have no idea how that’s going, no word from the south has reached Chiron either.”

“Duty. Of course.” She looked away. “The women here were talking about the trouble Chiron’s in.”

“He wanted no assistance, nor did his people want to hear my suggestions.” There was a touch of annoyance, injured pride perhaps?

“Tough to get a no, eh?” She asked without thinking. His eyebrows shot up but he gave a rueful grin.

“Not used to hearing it.”

“Of course not. Who says no to the Imperial prince?” Xin stepped back when he stood, though he just seemed amused.

“I really hate my titles.”

“You wear them very well though, Tier. Even if you pretend you don’t.”

“I will have to remember not to try to mince words with you, woman. You have a mean tongue.” He said. “Come on. There is enough gossip in this pit of vipers, I’d rather not add to it.”

“Great.”

“The women giving you trouble?” Tier asked. Xin shrugged.

“No. I’m not highborn enough for them. Not to mention all they talk about is clothes and who is sleeping with whom.” she fluttered her hand. “I got my fill of that from Matau.”

“Which is why I tend to avoid court.” He pointed towards the complex of buildings. “There’s a library to hide in over this way, if you want to get away.”

“A library? You read for leisure?” She asked archly. He shook his head.

“On occasion.” he laughed. “More often I’ll sleep. It’s very peaceful, even the most tiresome old windbags shut up in the library.”

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 29th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth Chapter 9 pt 2

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

With Vieno’s warnings in mind, and her head feeling like her scalp was going to rip off, Xin followed the matronly woman to the waiting chamber. Though she’d felt almost dazzled by the dress Vieno had draped on her, the other women’s gowns, edged in gold and silver, made hers look far simpler. Vieno smiled at her, turned and left. The other women eyed her, like a cat would eye a mouse.

They were all taller than she was, darker complicated and heavily adorned with beads and things in their hair and dangling from their earlobes. They took her in, whispering amongst themselves and then dismissed her as a loud gong echoed. There were several low tables, men sitting on cushions on the marble floor and a crescent shaped table up on a dais. Lord Chiron sat at the center, to his left was a space that, as she hesitated, was filled by one of the elegant women. To his right sat Tier and Rale, a space between them. When they saw her they exchanged a look she couldn’t read before Tier motioned her to join them. To the space beside him. In front of all those people who watched her every move.

She made her way quickly, praying she wouldn’t trip on the skirts or the cushions that were lining either side of the tables. When she reached the dais she was shaking and she sank to the cushion between the men, locking her eyes on the plate before her.

“You all right?” Tier asked in a low voice. She glanced up at him trying not to see the people watching her. Both he and Rale had changed into more appropriate dinner wear, tunic and robes similar in style to the Delebeg people. It was odd seeing Tier without armor or weapons. Clothing change or not, he looked like a soldier in finery, which was oddly comforting.

“There are a lot of people here.” She whispered. Tier nodded and rested his hand on her knee, leaning over towards her.

“Pretend they aren’t there. You’ll be fine.” His voice was the barest whisper.

“Easy for you to say.” She glanced up at him when he squeezed her knee in a manner she guessed meant to be reassuring.

“They’re too worried with my title to see the people around them.” he squeezed her knee again and then removed his hand. Xin bit her lip looking back down at her plate feeling slightly bereft. She rubbed her forehead, what was she thinking?

“Just ignore them.” Rale murmured at her other side. “They’re too worried about impressing Tier at the moment.”

“I know, but it’s kind of hard to ignore them.” Xin did a quick glance around the room her stomach did a flop. Chiron watched her, his expression cold, emotionless. His eyes revealed nothing, Xin fought the urge to shiver and run, instead forcing a courteous smile.

“Is everything acceptable?” he hesitated. “My lady?” He said the last slowly, as if in doubt his gaze flickering past her. An attempted insult, she was certain of it. His expression gave nothing away but she could feel the tension in both Tier and Rale.

“Yes, my lord.” She forced her own smile, blinking several times vapidly. He wanted to play games? She’d played games with Matau aplenty. “It is unexpected to find such revelry so far from the Empire.” She smiled again, this time pleased to see the tension in his shoulders.

“Delebeg is the Empire, my lady.” he replied through gritted teeth.

“On the outskirts of, I suppose.” she said sweetly. Tier’s hand was back on her knee, gentle warning pressure. “It is a beautiful dining hall.” she hesitated before adding “My Lord.” Tier’s fingers dug into her knee almost painfully. Rale jabbed her in the side.

“Be nice.” Rale hissed at her.

Lord Chiron smiled coldly at her then looked towards the back of the room, clapping twice, loudly. Servants filed in, scantily clad men and women with trays of all sorts of food. Meats, roasts, fruits, jugs of liquids with fine goblets adorned huge silver trays, and with them wafted the rich smells that made her mouth water.

Though she felt a bit braver for crossing subtle insults with Chiron, as the noise in the room grew Xin longed for the little cove in Dhaul, for her small attic. Even the fortress chambers, anything but this hall with all its noise and so many people. Everyone from her village could have fit in this room. Rale handed her a small glass of water.

“Whatever you do don’t drink the wine.” he whispered.

“Why?” Xin glanced up and down the table, neither Rale nor Tier had any of it though Chiron’s clear glass was full of the pale purple liquid.

“The wine’s strong and I don’t trust Chiron.” Rale tapped the plate with his knife. “That red stuff is spicy, it burns. The meat should be pretty good, but anything that is red, steer clear of.”

Xin looked at him and nodded. “Anything else I should know?” she whispered.

“Chiron hates Tier. I think the feeling might be mutual.” Rale ate a bit, motioning her to do the same. Tier and Chiron were talking about some military issue. “Chiron will try to goad you or I into being rude. If we slip he can complain to the Emperor, which might give Tier some trouble.”

Xin nodded. She stared at the food her stomach doing flops. “There’s too many people here.”

“This is nothing.” Rale touched her hand. “The hall of the Imperial Palace is twice this size, so is the hall in Lorn. This,” he gestured to the hall. “Is small.”

Chiron slammed his hand down, startling everyone. Tier looked at him.

“A bit extreme, don’t you think?” Tier’s voice was bland.

“Whose hall is this, your highness?”

“T’was merely a suggestion, at the insistence of your general, Chiron. Nothing more. Nothing personal.” Tier sipped his water and made a motion with his free hand. “You’ve brought back some old traditions, I’ve only read about. Why?”

Chiron lifted his wine glass and sneered. “There are certain things we’ve let go of since the campaigns to expand began. Did you know,” he paused downing his wine. Xin glanced at Rale who was slowly shaking his head. “That in the days of our Great Grandfather women wouldn’t dine in the same room as the leaders?”

“Indeed.” Tier’s hand rested again on Xin’s knee. She considered batting it off, but restrained herself.

“Women are unclean, they say.” Chiron looked directly at Xin. “In the days of our glorious ancestors women wouldn’t even live in the same house as the men.”

“I’m sure the Seeress would find that truly enlightening, seeing as she is, after all, a woman.” Xin said sweetly, batting at Tier’s hand. The mention of the Seeress had an instant effect on both men. The blood drained from Chiron’s face, even Tier glared at her.

“The Seeress changed those traditions, and for reason.” Tier said. Xin batted at his hand again glaring. The gong sounded again.

“That’s the cue for the unclean women to leave.” A woman’s voice broke the strained silence. Chiron’s woman stood, tipping the plate of food in her hand over Chiron’s head, and let the platter fall to the ground with a loud, echoing clatter. “Perhaps you should ask the Seeress for clarification on this, tradition.” She snarled. She stormed down from the dais as Chiron spluttered. Tier released Xin’s knee, but gripped her arm as she prepared to stand.

“Go straight to the rooms they assigned you. We’ll talk once this mess is cleared up.” The cold tone in his voice sent chills up her spine. She nodded and he released her. “And keep quiet. Please?”

She took a deep breath. “Only because you said please.” She murmured. As she stood she caught the hint of amusement in Tier’s eyes and Rale had both hands covering his face, his shoulders shaking. As she left she felt almost lighthearted. Almost. She felt the weight of Chiron’s dark glare at her back as she left, and she wished Tier could have gone with her.

 

“You’re lucky we’re guests.” Tier said as he entered.

Xin half turned in the chair, heart pounding. How did the man, large as he was move so quietly? Vieno chuckled behind her.

“She’s got fire. I don’t think there was a person in there who disagreed with her. Many of the nobles, men and women alike are getting tired of Chiron’s ways.” Vieno said. The woman was removing the string of pearls and undoing the twisting braids in Xin’s hair.

“Chiron’s fuming. Serves the bastard right.” Tier set a tray down on the low table and made his way over. Xin looked back at the mirror watching his reflection. He grinned. “I think Rale cracked a rib laughing.”

“Chiron’s woman has created many public scandals.” Vieno set the pearls to one side, smiling at Xin in the mirror. “She embarrasses him constantly.”

“He’s an embarrassment to the Empire. That’s why he’s in Delebeg.”

Vieno paused. “True. Delebeg suffers for it though.”

Xin looked down in her lap, at her hands. “I’m sorry he was, aggravating me.”

“No need to apologize.” Tier said with a chuckle.

Xin glanced up at the mirror as he sat in one of the low chairs.

“Bastard deserved it.” He said.

“Tier.” Vieno admonished.

“Vieno, he was goading her, if she hadn’t snapped Rale would have or I. She can get away with it, we can’t.”

“Still.” Vieno finished and ran a comb through Xin’s hair. “He’s still your blood.”

“Vieno,”

“He and Maen are alike. And they know how to get under your skin.”

“Maen was never this aggravating.” Tier snorted.

“I’m sure he would find that interesting.” Vieno stepped back. “You finish your meal, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you Vieno.” Xin said quickly running her hands through her hair. Her head still felt tight and achy from having her hair twisted so tightly.

“Won’t you stay?” Tier asked smoothly. “There’s enough for all, including Rale if he decides to stop ogling Fatira.”

“No, I ate already.” She gave him a slight bow. “Goodnight children.”

“Children?” Tier asked archly.

“When I look at you, Tier, I still see the twelve year old boy trying to wield a battle axe larger than he was!” Vieno patted his shoulder as she passed by.

“That ended badly.” He snorted again. “And that boy grew up a long time ago.”

“You’re still alone though.” Vieno gave him a long look before curtsying and leaving.

“She cares a lot for you.” Xin observed. Tier looked at her nodding.

“She’s an amazing woman.” Tier motioned her over. “You can’t eat halfway across the room, Xin.”

Xin stood, made her way to the low chair across from where Tier sat and seated herself looking at Tier for a moment her stomach doing wild flops.

“I’m sorry Tier.”

He leaned forward shaking his head as he pulled the cover off the tray. “And I said not to apologize.”

“But,”

“Chiron is drunk.” He lifted a plate and handed it to her. “He started drinking around the same time we arrived and, according to his servants, hasn’t stopped.”

Xin took the plate and sat back, crossing her legs under her. “Because of you being here?”

“More than likely. Chiron and I don’t care for each other.” He leaned back with a chuckle. “Like my brother, Chiron seeks recognition for deeds others have done.”

“And you don’t?” Xin asked after quickly swallowing a piece of meat.

“I have my reputation.” He shrugged. “It is enough to know my advice and experience is sought after, even if I am, officially, on vacation.”

They ate in comfortable silence, far more peaceful than the dining hall, though Tier did comment several times about Rale’s absence. Long after Tier left, Xin sat staring at the seat he’d occupied.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, July 24th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth Chapter 9 pt 1

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Chapter 9 pt 1

The city of Delebeg dominated the desert valley, the towering walls of the city a ruddy red matching the local rock. It straddled a dry riverbed that was dotted with old, long unused docks. The road leading to the tall gates was wide and lined with tall stones. The guards at the gate straightened and nodded in Tier’s direction as they passed through.

Within the walls, the buildings were the same mud brick as the walls, and the dry dusty air made Xin feel like she was about to sneeze. Xin trailed behind the men. People stopped, staring as they went by. Many of them were dressed in loose robes that billowed in the lightest breeze.

In the center of the city, glowing white beneath the unforgiving sun, was a palace. The closer they got to it, the more Xin noticed greenery. She frowned, glancing back. The people were following them from a distance. Xin swallowed, and urged her horse to move faster, closer to Rale and Tier. These people were unnerving.

The road changed as they neared the palace. From brick to carefully laid cobblestones, and those following them stopped at the line where it changed. Neither men seemed to notice. Xin forced her attention on the arched gate. Beyond the gate was a courtyard and on the far end was a set of steps leading up to double doors. At the top of the steps stood a man. Tall, thin and gaunt, his eyes glittered as they neared. Tier raised his hand in greeting and dismounted.

“No fanfare, no announcements nor chalets, just riding up the road. Gods of the great high one, you haven’t changed a bit.” The man’s voice was deep and though he was smiling, it failed to reach his eyes. Xin’s stomach twisted. There was something off about this man, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Hello Lord Chiron, I don’t suppose we could impose on your hospitality?” Tier asked, meeting him half way down the steps. “We’ve been on the old road for a while, and could use a rest.”

“My household would be honored to have you here, your highness.” Chiron said, bowing. “Lord Rale? Is that you under all that dust?”

“It is.” Rale slid off his horse and limped over to Xin’s horse. “It’s a hell of a trek down the mountain.”

“It is.” Chiron laughed. “Why did you take the old road.”

“Scenery!”

Xin dismounted stepping back as several youths with shaved heads arrived, bowed to them and took the reins from their hands, guiding the horses towards a side archway. Xin watched bemused. She couldn’t tell if they were male or female and their simple clothes didn’t give any hints When she looked back towards the men, Lord Chiron was staring at her, his heavy brows pulled together. His false smile faded.

“I do not recognize you, my lady.” Chiron’s voice was odd. Xin glanced over at Tier, unsure of what to say.

“This is Xin.” Tier motioned her over, resting a hand on her shoulder, he squeezed gently. “A road companion headed for Sandau.”

Xin gave what she hoped was a proper curtsy. The way Chiron was staring at her made her wonder if she’d sprouted horns and hadn’t noticed.

“Still picking up strays along the way, eh?” Chiron looked back at Tier and sneered. He motioned them to follow him up the stairs. “You haven’t changed at all.”

“I believe you said that already.” Rale muttered as he touched Xin’s shoulder. “Come on, this will be unpleasant. Chiron hogs the water for the palace grounds so we might as well take advantage of it.”

“Is that why the people were following us?”

“Chiron isn’t exactly liked. The people here are always short on water.” Rale glanced behind him. “That’s how Chiron keeps them docile.”

“Awful.”

“It is. He is.”

“It is going to be a long few days.” Xin murmured.

“Yep.” Rale grimaced and allowed her to go ahead of him into the palace.

They followed Chiron through large open halls and corridors, a maze that Xin feared she’d get lost in if left behind. The forest and finding her way in the mountains were easy. The mere idea of trying to manage these passages by herself made her gut twist. They were nearing another set of doors when Xin felt the heavy pull of water.

She hesitated, glancing around. When the doors opened from without, the moisture hit her. Chiron had led them to an inner courtyard that flaunted his ownership of the water. It was dominated by a large fountain and pool, and around the base was a pond with water lilies. Along the edge of the courtyard, in huge buckets, were fruit laden trees. The moisture tugged at her, calling to her. She wanted to dive into the fountain, to rid herself of the dust and dry air.

She hesitated at the entry, glancing at Tier. He was listening to whatever Chiron was saying.

“We have a situation to the northeast. I must meet with my officials.” Chiron was saying.

He clapped twice and two young women with dark skin and draped in loose, light yellow wraps, hurried over. Behind them, her steps slow and deliberate, her hands clasped in front of her, was an older woman. Her skin not quite as dark, and her wraps though similar style, were a rich orange with embroidery along the edges. One of the robes was pulled halfway over her head, covering her hair from view. She halted and bowed at Chiron.

“You called, my lord?”

“Take care of my guests.” HE turned towards Tier. “Is there anything else, your highness?”

“No. Thank you. We will see you at dinner then.” Tier said, his tone had a touch of steel that Xin hadn’t heard before. She glanced at Rale whose eyebrows arched in surprise though he said nothing.

Lord Chiron spun around and hurried off, his robes swishing as he went. Xin breathed a sigh of relief. The man had an oily aura about him that she didn’t care for. She turned her attention to the women.

The two younger women half knelt, heads lowered. The older woman smiled at them, holding out her hands. Tier bowed, much to Xin’s surprise, and stepped forward, catching the woman in a tight embrace.

“You have been away for far too long, Tier.” she spoke slowly, her accent heavy.

“They usually have me on the other side of the nation.” Tier said turning towards Xin and Rale. “Vieno, these are my traveling companions, you remember Rale?”

“It has been years.” Rale said bowing also.

“Silly boys, you don’t bow to me, my lords.” She looked at Xin. “And who is this lady who travels with you?”

“This is Xin, from the Dhaul region.” Tier hesitated. “She’s traveling with us till we reach Sandau.”

“I’m no lady.” Xin said quickly. Vieno’s eyebrows arched and she smiled before turning towards Rale.

“Fatira will take you to your quarters to clean up and rest. Dinner is at sunset.”

One of the younger women stood, curtsied, and strode off towards a side door in the courtyard. After a moment’s hesitation, Rale followed. As the door closed behind him, a youth burst through running towards them, sliding to a stop, his eyes wide.

“Your highness,” he bowed, gasping for breath. “Lord Chiron request your presence in the meeting hall.” He looked up. “The officials insisted.”

“Chiron is always impatient.” Vieno said.

Tier turned towards Xin, eying her for a long moment. “Vieno,”

“Go on, highness, before Chiron loses his temper. I’ll make sure Lady Xin is comfortable.” Vieno gave a bow and then a shooing motion.

Xin watched him walk away with the servant and turned to face Vieno.

“You look very tired, young woman. Come with me.” Vieno smiled warmly, turned and walked back the way she’d come. Xin took a deep breath and followed the elegant woman.

 

“He does not usually travel with others.” Vieno was saying as she made a final adjustment to the dress she’d insisted Xin wear.

“So I have gathered.” Xin shifted, uncomfortable. The dress was a set of loose pieces of fabric, secured by just a few stitches here and there. They flowed around her with each step, yet were so light weight she felt as though she wore nothing. Secured at her shoulders, the dress left her arms bare, gathered at her waist the skirts covered her legs to her ankles which Vieno had insisted be decorated with thin golden chains.

“He is an awful lair.” Vieno said directly. “You were not planning to go to Sandau.”

“He is an awful liar.” Xin agreed laughing. “But yes, I have family in Sandau.” She resisted the urge to twirl in the dress and met Vieno’s gaze. The older woman’s eyes narrowed.

“I will believe you, if you insist.” She said finally. “Come, sit, your hair needs fixing.”

Xin slowly reached up, clasping both hands over her bun.

“I won’t cut it, girl. Pull out the hair stick and let’s see it.” Vieno moved the chair closer.

Xin swallowed and did so. Her hair fell out of the bun and Vieno nodded. “You take good care of it. Good. Now sit.”

“Lady Vieno, this dress, the anklets, it’s all much too fine for me.”

“You are a guest, and you travel with an Imperial Prince. You need to look the part. Besides, I saw the way he looked at you, I know you aren’t blind, you saw it too.”

“He is an Imperial Prince. I am nothing.” Xin said as she sat. “It wouldn’t be,” she floundered her cheeks heating up.

“He does not think you are nothing.” Vieno began to carefully comb through Xin’s hair. “Things could happen.” She chuckled. “He is not a bad looking man.”

“No, he’s not.” Xin agreed, annoyed when the woman chuckled. “Still, what would be the point? When we get to Sandau we will go our separate ways.” She couldn’t think about returning to Nekar. Despite what he said, she couldn’t trust Seeress.

“He is a lonely man.” Vieno said and set the comb to one side and began to do something with Xin’s hair that involved pulling, lifting and twisting. “He came to Delebeg as a young boy, left a man and in all that time he was alone. Even now, second in command of the Imperial Army in the East, he is alone. Few friends,”

“What about Rale?” Xin asked.

“They are cousins and happen to get along.” Vieno did something and Xin cringed, pain shooting through her scalp. “Sorry. Tier does his duty and that’s it. You are good for him.”

“That’s all he lives for, he said as much.” Xin said softly.

“You have given him something else to think of besides duty.” Vieno stepped back and nodded with a smile. “Look in the mirror girl.”

Xin hesitated and stepped in front of the body length piece of metal and stared. The woman standing in the mirror couldn’t be her, could it? She smoothed the skirt over her front and blinked when the reflection did the same. Vieno had twisted her hair into a myriad of braids that looped and draped, working in a string of pearls which stood out against her dark hair.

“Would it be so awful to be with him? Even for a short period of time?” Vieno asked gently.

Xin couldn’t answer. She stared at the mirror, not really seeing her reflection. Tier had been in her thoughts, invading her sleep. It was stupid. What if the Seeress decided to have her put to death? He would be the one to do it.

“He does his duty. He serves the Empire, the Seeress,”

“He is on a mission for the Seeress.” Xin looked at the older woman. Vieno frowned.

“I did not know that.” She shook her head. “That is a death sentence.”

“So I’ve heard.” Xin looked down. “It wouldn’t,” she couldn’t continue.

“This is not good.” Vieno tightened something on the dress. “It is a death sentence to be asked to do her work. Especially outside the Empire.”

“Surely some have survived, I would think if anyone could, he would!”

“Indeed.” But Vieno was still frowning. “What has she asked him to do? No, I’ll ask him myself.”

“If it’s a death sentence, and everyone is afraid of her, why,”

“Do we still follow her?” Vieno took a deep breath. “Because the alternative is much worse.”

“Is it?” Xin shook her head.

“Hush.” Vieno lowered her voice. “There are some things one doesn’t discuss, she can find things out at a great distance, and there are many mice within the palace walls.”

Xin turned meeting the woman’s dark eyes. They studied each other.

“Be careful what you say, and to whom. Dhaul is relaxed, less a part of the empire than a tributary. Words, the wrong ones, in front of the wrong person, can get you killed.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Xin murmured.

“There are some things you should be aware of, customs you must adhere to.” Vieno said. “All eyes will be on you.”

“Oh lovely.”

~*~

The rest of chapter 9 will be posted Tues, July 22th. Sorry y’all, it was just way too long. 

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 8

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

They left in the predawn light, following the trail back down to the crossroads. When they reached it, Xin stared at the path that wound it’s way back down to the village she’d grown up in. She couldn’t go back. Ever. Her stomach twisted. She turned, looking up at Tier.

“I’ll accompany you, for now.” She sighed.

Tier inclined his head. Rale extended his hand. “Ride behind me. Save your feet.”

Xin snorted but stepped over. “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“We’ll go slow.” Rale assured her as she clumsily got up behind him. She gripped his belt, hoping her shaking wouldn’t be obvious.

“The next town, we’ll see about getting you a horse.” Rale craned his neck, looking at her over his shoulder.

Xin nodded, belatedly realizing he couldn’t see her. “All right.”

 

They followed the twisting road, farther than Xin had been. Passing between steep cliffs and down into a narrow, eerily silent valley. Trees with ruddy red trunks towered over them and mist clung to the ground. The men were tense and Xin watched Tier closely. Several times he looked off into the forest, brows pulled together, staring at something. Rale said nothing about it, Xin hesitated to ask. They reached a wide, shallow stream, and Tier pulled his horse to a halt.

“Let’s stop here, water the horses and eat.” He said, his voice low.

“It feels heavy here.” Rale said. His horse stopped, ears flickering back and forth. Xin slid off, and limped back from the horse. Her legs trembled.

She made her way towards the stream, picking her way around several boulders trying to walk out the odd feel to her legs. The water whispered to her, dancing along her mind. She crouched, glancing back at the men. They were looking at a parchment, talking in low voices. She sighed and dipped her fingers in the water.

It was cold, soothing. She closed her eyes listening. The road followed along side the stream for quite a distance, almost to the lake, she knew that from the map, and could feel it in her mind. She frowned. She heard, no she felt percussions rippling through the water. She straightened, staring upstream. The sound of horses moving through the water was carried on the current. She swallowed. Bandits.

“Bandits, upriver.” She called to the men. “Four maybe five. I think there might be more in the forest.”

Tier was on his feet, sword drawn before she finished. Rale drew his slender sword and they both moved toward the stream bank. Xin crept towards the large boulders beside the stream, the sounds of splashing reaching her. Around the bend, their armor ragged and mismatched, came bandits that appeared to have had far better days. Their horses appeared underfed and scraggly. Tier lowered his sword. They halted, exchanging startled looks, their horses sidestepping, ears flat on their heads.

“Your money and the woman and you may pass.” One of the men called.

“Or you’ll do what?” Tier scoffed. “Bat at us with those toy blades?”

The bandits hissed back and forth, and Xin stared at the water around the horses hooves.

“We’ll kill you.”

“You can try, won’t get very far.” Rale called. Xin shot him a startled look, he didn’t look the type. Tier chuckled and shook his head.

“You won’t succeed. Go back where you came from, you won’t get anything from us.”

“Noblemen from Nekar, all alone, in the middle of nowhere.” One of the men with finer clothing than the others leaned forward. “Put your toy swords away and hand over your money. We might even share the woman….Oww.”

Xin directed a large chunk of half frozen ice at the man, hitting him in the chest and knocking him off the A blob of ice shot from the water slamming into the man’s chest. He fell back and hit the iced over stream, his horse spooked, darting from the stream, circles of ice around his hooves. The other horses followed their fellow, dashing onto the shore, leaving their startled riders behind in the stream.

The panicked horses tangled with bandits trying to run out from the forest in an ambush. Xin turned her attention back to the bandits who had been dumped by their terrified mounts. She focused, freezing the surface of the water around them and muttered one of Matau’s favorite oaths. The man she’d hit with the ice got to his feet, just out of range of her ice. She stepped forward and focused on the water around his legs, freezing it as fast as she could. He yowled, struggling to yank his legs free.

Xin tossed a few ice balls at the other men trying to keep them from the fray onshore. The leader yowled in frustration. The others were working themselves loose. Xin couldn’t keep the water frozen. Her head was pounding and she could feel sweat beading on her face. She’d never used her ability like this, though she’d heard stories and tried small ice balls late at night when no one was looking.

With a yell the bandits broke and fled back into the forest. Xin sank to the ground shaking, her head heavy. The leader was dragging himself out of the water, his legs encased in ice chunks. He yelled something she didn’t catch and half ran, half limped into the safety of the forest.

Xin forced herself to her feet. They might be just out of sight, watching and regrouping. She made her way back over to the men. Several of the bodies lay on the ground, blood seeping around them. Xin gritted her teeth, her stomach doing a dangerous flop. Tier touched her shoulder.

“You okay?”

Xin blinked and looked up at him, nodding mutely.

“We’ll get going here in a moment.” He grimaced, rubbing his thumb. It looked odd.

“You hurt?”

He shrugged. “I’ll live.”

“Dislocated your thumb again?” Rale shook his head. “The healers in Lorn could have fixed that.”

Tier scowled at him. “Let those crazies cut my hand open. No.”

“One of the horses got tangled in the underbrush.” Rale pointed.

“Payment for the inconvenience.” Tier looked at Xin. Looks like you have a horse now, my lady.”

Xin snorted, looking at the ragged beast. “Let’s hope it lives.”

“It,” Tier half bent, looking under the beast’s belly. “She, will probably live longer in our care than with those incompetent fools.”

 

Rale helped Xin get to know her new mount while Tier wrapped his hand, securing his thumb with a rarely used brace, swearing under his breath. The bandit’s sword hit his at just the right angle. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Once it was secure he gathered the weapons that looked usable and watched Rale going over some basic riding skills. The poor woman was pale.

“You think you can ride solo, or do you want to give it some time?” Tier asked.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you.” Her voice didn’t sound like she’d be fine at all but he wasn’t about to push her. His head was ringing from the power she’d been using. It troubled him. He shouldn’t be able to feel it, should he? She shook the thought off, it led to other, dangerous questions. Questions he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers to.

They rode on, going slow at first, then a bit faster as they neared the foothills of the mountains separating Dhaul from the desert province of Delebeg. They reached the bottom of the pass and found a small abandoned town. The thatch roofs had fallen into rickety shells of houses whose owners abandoned them. They found what might have once been an inn, and a stable yard able to secure the horses. They left early to reach the peak of the pass.

The passage up the pass was narrow and clogged with rocks and at the peak Rale and Xin both suggested they rest before going back down the other way. A stone hut provided them with shelter, and a view of the valley stretching out below.

Tier took the first shift, though they hadn’t seen any more bandits, they were out there, resentful and angry. He didn’t want to give them any chance to do anything. He’d settled against the outside wall when Xin approached him. She looked as if she were about to say something but instead she sighed, moving as though to go back inside.

“Something on your mind?” He asked. She half turned, looking up at him.

“How much further to Delebeg?”

He peered into the dark valley below. “Do you see those lights in the distance?”

She was quiet. He wished the moon was out so he could get a better glimpse of her face. Her hair was brushing his face, and arm and he was tempted catch it and braid it or something. He gripped his sword belt instead. It was safer.

“That’s Delebeg?” She sounded forlorn. Tier inwardly sighed. He wasn’t sure what to do, how he might help her feel better.

“It’s about four days, possibly five depending on how the horses do.”

“It’s dry down there. I can feel it.” she shuffled her feet.

“What’s it like?” He asked. He should send her back to bed, but he didn’t want her to leave just yet.

“What? Water using?”

“Yeah.” He hesitated. He almost mentioned being able to feel when she used her powers, but the words stuck in his throat. Now wasn’t the time.

“It’s an irresistible pull.” She said after a long silence. “It’s a whisper in the back of my mind that never quite goes away. If I’m not careful I could end up going under.” She shuddered.

“Going under?”

“Getting lost in the call of the water. There were stories Matau told me about, stories of water users who were unable to resist the call of the water. They either disappeared or drowned.”

Tier wasn’t sure what to say.

“I think if there wasn’t such a harsh punishment for just being what we are, it wouldn’t have consumed them.” Her voice was almost inaudible.

“The law,” Tier began but she interrupted.

“What if the law is wrong?” She asked softly. “Have you ever considered that? Not all laws are right, just because they’re laws.” She touched his arm, a feather touch that sent shock waves through him. “It means that the people in power want it done that way.”

He considered that.

“Good night, Tier.” She went silently and he couldn’t think of anything to say to bring her back.

He stared out into the darkness considering what she had said, and what she hadn’t. He’d never worried about it, never even thought about it. The law was the law. But that law dictated that he should put her to death. The law determined she was not a person, just an evil being.

The Seeress had ordered him to seek out the elementals. Would she also order him to kill them? And if she did, could he really do it? He’d never questioned his orders. Never doubted that the Seeress knew what was right for Nekar, for their people.

And yet she gave him chills, nightmares, and there were times he could almost feel her near him. Her fingernail dragging slowly down his chest, her voice whispering in his head. It left an oily, grimy feel that he hadn’t been able to wash away. If she suspected he was doubting her, doubting the laws he’d enforced his entire adult life, his life wouldn’t be worth living. She’d make sure of it. The question Xin asked earlier hung in his mind, nagging at him. If he was ordered to, could he kill her? For the first time in his life, he didn’t know the answer. Confused, troubled he stayed long past when he was supposed to wake Rale. When he finally went inside he was no closer to an answer.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 15th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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An apology

Real life pounced me pretty hard last week, and this week is no better. However, next Tuesday the Serial will be back on schedule. I hope I didn’t lose you, and I deeply apologize for my silence regarding it.

N. Phoenix

 

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 7

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Chapter 7

Xin watched from her bedroll as the prince returned to his, a small wooden box in his hands. He pulled out several small old looking scrolls and skimmed over their contents before pulling out a thin chain with a strange amulet on it. He stared at it with that deep frown, his thumb brushing over its face before tucking it into his belt pouch.

“Where did you find those?” Xin asked. He didn’t look her way, though his eyebrow quirked. He unrolled another scroll.

“Upstairs, hidden under a stone.” He shook his head.

“Did a ghost show you where it was?” Xin asked, half teasing. She hesitated. He paled and glanced at her, his dark eyes unreadable. She swallowed, heart hammering in her ears and scanned the large hall. “Are there any floating around right now?”

“No.” He looked back down at the pile of scrolls, brows pulling together, and lifted a small black scroll. “Interesting.” He murmured, unrolling it.

“What is it?” Xin scooted over to get a better look. It was, she told herself, to avoid waking up Rale.

“This is a summons scroll.” Tier said, frowning as he scanned over the contents. “It’s a request to go to meet with the Seeress.”

“Don’t the Nekarians worship her?” Xin asked.

“Some do.” He rolled the scroll tightly and set it in the bottom of the box before returning the other scrolls atop it. “They say she has guided and protected Nekar for a thousand years.”

“Killing any who oppose her.” Xin snorted.

“No.” Tier shook his head. “Her visions have guided our people, sometimes sacrifices must be made.”

“It seems tyrannical to me. What happens if her orders are ignored? Perhaps peace would break out?”

“The Empire could be diminished.” He closed the box, tucking it into his travel pack. He rummaging through the bag, frowning. “She gives orders for the betterment of the Empire. We are just tools.”

“Do you really believe that?” Xin asked. He looked at her, surprised.

“Of course.”

Xin frowned. “If it wasn’t your duty to locate and return living elementals to her, would you kill me?” Xin asked in a low voice. Tier stilled, eyes darting back to his travel sack.

“I would do my duty.” He said slowly. “But if she hadn’t ordered me here, I would not have needed a guide, nor been in this part of the world.” He lifted an unlit torch, stood and went to the torch in the wall, lighting the new one off the old.

“Is that all there is?” Xin swallowed, scrambling to her feet.

“Hmm?” He strode across the room, lifting the torch above his head. Xin followed at a distance. She didn’t want to wake up Rale.

“Duty, is that all there is to you?”

“Mostly.” He glanced down at her then pointed to the mural and set the fresh torch in the empty holder beside the mural. He stepped back, staring up at the wall.

“Mostly?” Xin shook her head. “I would’ve expected to hear tales of court gossip and exploits of the nobility.”

He looked at her and laughed “From Rale, from my brother or sister, yes you’d get an earful. I avoid it personally.”

“Why?”

“Court is a den of backbiting vipers. I don’t have the temperament for it.” He glanced her way. “As you pointed out, I’m a bad liar.” He tipped his head to one side and muttered an oath under his breath, going back to his travel packs. He returned with a folded and travel worn parchment. He lifted it up, eyes flickering back and forth between parchment and mural.

Xin looked at the mural, she’d always loved it. It was of woman holding her multicolored skirts in each hand in what may have been a curtsy. Her face was lost in the shadows and the plaster where her feet were had long ago crumbled. The skirt, though, was brightly colored, dotted with jewels, whispering of another time. Xin glanced at the parchment Tier was holding up and gasped, involuntarily stepping closer.

“You see it too?”

“It’s a map.” She looked up at him. “The mural’s a map!”

“It is, roughly. It’s missing some cities.” He pointed. “Lorn, Hagish, and the capital, and nothing is named. But look up there, those could be cities, they’re not on my map though. How old do you think this is?”

“I’m not sure. Matau had nothing to say about it.” Xin shrugged.

“Probably wasn’t exciting enough.” He said dryly.

Xin nodded, frowning. The colors on the skirt nibbled at her, reminding her of an old rhyme she’d been told long ago. She rubbed her forehead, trying to remember the words.

“Tier, that there,” she pointed to the parchment then to the equivalent on the mural. “That is Dhaul, right?”

“Yes.”

“It’s in blue, see? Delebeg is in brown…”

“So?”

“There was a song we used to sing as children, each elemental had a color assigned to them.” Xin said softly. “Earth was brown, air was white, water blue, fire,”

“Red.” He blinked looking at the map in his hands.

“It shows what regions the elementals occupied.” Xin looked up at him. “Might give you an idea of where you’re going to go next.”

Tier looked at her. “And where will you go?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She stared towards the mural. “I haven’t given it much thought yet.”

“Come with us.”

Xin swallowed, unable to meet his eyes. “And eventually meet the Seeress?” She forced herself to look at him. “Who is responsible, ultimately, for my mother being run out, for me being in exile?”

He looked away and shook his head. “I don’t know what to say.” He looked back at her. “My mission, my life depends on me being able to locate elementals, and take them back to her. I can’t change the rules.”

She looked up towards the mural. “What does she want with us?”

“She claimed it was to heal damage from the Elemental War.”

“Claimed?” She frowned. “You doubt it?”

He scowled. “Questioning her can be fatal.”

“I have to think about it.”

“We’d have to go to Delebeg,” Rale’s voice made her jump. “It’s a straight shot from here.”

“I hate the desert.” Tier said folding the parchment and moving back towards their bedrolls.

“Chiron is governor of Delebeg isn’t he?” Rale’s asked.

“He was last I heard. I don’t hear much from that area though. I know he had some sort of uprising near his northern borders.”

“And after Delebeg?”

“Depends on if we locate an Earth Elemental. There are a couple small towns north of Delebeg we can check. After that, I don’t know.”

Xin barely heard Rale’s reply, she studied the mural. There were other colors edging the skirt and then there was the odd blot in the south/bottom part of the dress. Nekar, home of the Seeress. Xin shuddered glancing towards the fire. The men were deep in conversation, discussing other possible places to go, neither seemed to notice her.

She drifted towards the entry, glanced back at the fire one last time before ducking into the now soggy courtyard. She felt the call of the water and struggled to resist it. Everything that had happened, the flash flood, the rocks, crashed down on her. She forced herself to breathe. She wasn’t going to cry, she wouldn’t let herself cry. What was the point?

Matau tried to kill her. She shouldn’t have been surprised, he was one of the first to run her mother out, but Xin was still having a hard time believing it. He would have killed her if Tier hadn’t stepped in the way. She owed him her life. That didn’t sit well with her.

Was that any better a fate than being stoned? It was Tier’s duty to find people like her and turn them over to the Seeress. And if he didn’t… Xin sighed. The seeress was not known for being understanding.

Tier intrigued her. He was the Seeress’s chosen seeker, like the stories whispered in the dunurch late at night. He would do her bidding, and according to the old ones, eventually die in her service.

None survived for long, the old men had said, few could stand being in the Seeress’s presence for long. Fewer still able to walk away from a mission unscathed. She leaned back against a large block that faced the front gates, and stared up at the stars peeking from the clouds. What in the world was she going to do? She pulled her legs up on the rock, wrapping her arms around her legs and propping her chin on her knees. She felt the tears, the sobs, the reality of her awful situation and pressed her forehead against her knees crying.

The storm of tears passed, and she shivered in the chill air. She needed to get back to her bedroll, get some sleep and try to decide in the morning where she was going to go. Something was draped over her shoulders, she looked up blinking in surprise. Tier was standing just an arm’s length away.

“It’s kind of cold out here.” He said adjusting the blanket he’d draped over her shoulders. “Are you alright?”

She shrugged staring up at the moon. “He tried to kill me. He would have too if you and Rale hadn’t…” She gripped the blanket tightening it around her shoulders.

She could almost feel how awkward he must be feeling. She pressed her forehead against her knees again fighting sobs. She felt his hand resting on her shoulder, attempted comfort from a man who would kill her in a heartbeat?

“Rale is asleep again.” He said, the tone of his voice had an odd timbre to it. “Come back inside where it is warmer.” he was gently rubbing her back, the soothing caress was making her drowsy.

“If I go with you, after all this is over, where will I go?” she whispered. She looked at him, barely a shadowy outline in the darkness.

“We’ll figure that out later. Right now you ought to get to sleep.”

“You too.” She said sharply, but she slid off the rock gripping the blanket.

“Possibly.” he said. He followed her back inside and Xin wondered what he saw that she didn’t. When she turned to ask she found herself spun back around to face the fire, his hands steel on her shoulders. “You don’t want to know what I see, Xin.”

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, July 3rd.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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