Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
Two towering statues guarded the entrance to the canyon. Their features were worn from time and weather, leaving their gender impossible to guess. At their feet, peeking from beneath the sand and rock, were cobblestones. Tier gazed into the canyon, the cobblestones lined the canyon floor. He glanced up, looking for the floating rocks he’d seen when on the roof of the ancient building. Nothing but blue sky with white clouds skittering by.
“It’s a road.” Xin said, bringing his thoughts back to the canyon.
“It looks like no one has been down this way in years.” Tier leaned forward in the saddle peering at the narrowing canyon. “We might have to dismount and lead the horses if it gets too narrow.”
“I don’t like the look of it.” Rale said. “It looks, evil.” From the canyon, on the wind, came a low howl sound. Tier glanced at Rale. Blood drained from his face and he slowly shook his head. “No.”
“Come on Rale, it’s not as bad as the Dhaul Fortress.” Xin said lightly.
“I’m not going through that.” Rale pointed. “Did you hear that? No. Absolutely not.”
“Don’t worry Rale, I’ll protect you.” Geb grinned at him. He pointed at the ground at the statue’s feet. “It just a road. We stay on the cobblestones, we’ll be fine. It’s straying off the path that will get us into trouble.”
Rale gave him a dirty look.
“One word Rale,” Tier said. “Seeress.”
“Shit.” Rale rubbed his face with his hand. “Fine, after you.”
Tier snorted and urged his horse between the two statues, into the canyon. The only other place they could go was south, back to Nekar and the Seeress, and he wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Not yet. He’d found two Elementals, and felt another one using power somewhere beyond this canyon.
Aside from the wind and their own passing, there was no sound. Though the canyon did narrow, they stayed mounted, and as the shadows lengthened Tier called a halt. Up ahead, in the distance, tucked beneath an overhang was what appeared to be some sort of cottage. He and Rale exchanged dubious glances and they carefully made their way toward it.
“It’s been empty a long time.” Xin dismounted and glanced at the men. “I say we stop here for the night. I don’t think we’ll make it to the city before nightfall.”
Rale groaned. “I’d go through the night. I want out of this,” the wind picked up, a long whistling howl that made the hairs on the back of Tier’s neck stand up. “Canyon.”
“I’m with Xin.” Geb slid off of Rale’s horse. “I’m tired and I’m not going through that at night.”
They all looked at Tier. He stared past them. The canyon curved in the distance. He frowned.
“Tier.” Xin’s voice dragged him out of his thoughts. He exhaled slowly.
“We’ll stay the night. Rale see if there’s a place to tie up the horses.”
Rale dismounted and stomped off, leading his horse to the other side of the building, grumbling under his breath.
The cottage was filled with nearly a foot of sand. There was nothing resembling furniture, though it probably rotted away long ago. Tier started a fire in a place that looked like it might have been a fire pit. Xin knelt beside him.
“If that was smoke we saw, wouldn’t we be smelling it by now?” She asked in a low voice. Tier looked at her and nodded. “So if it wasn’t smoke, what was it?”
Tier frowned, looking down at the dark ruddy sand. He scooped up a handful and let it fall between his fingers. “Dust storm maybe?”
“Maybe air elemental?” He barely whispered, though Rale and Geb were in an animated discussion about something. Xin looked at the fire.
“So now what?”
“We keep going. Check out the city, though I’m guessing it’s empty.”
“If there was an air elemental, it must not be that empty.” Xin stood glancing at Geb and Rale.
Tier said nothing, looking back at the fire. Air or fire, the problem would be convincing whatever it was to join them.
“That’s a hell of a city.” Rale whispered. The canyon opened up to a valley divided by huge walls and beyond the walls, built upwards into the cliffs, were structures, though Tier couldn’t tell if they were homes or something else entirely.
“It reminds me of a bee hive.” Xin pointed. “The wall is breached over there.”
“Nekarians?” Geb asked. They all looked at Tier. He shrugged and turned his horse towards the breach.
Sand was piled along the bottom of the walls in huge drifts, some taller than he was. The walls themselves were made of huge oddly shaped blocks of stone. Unlike the walls he’d seen in Jacktor and Nekar, these were thicker, octagonal and fitted puzzle-like, resembling a honeycomb.
He dismounted, leading the horse towards the large tumbled stones, half covered in sand. Old scorch marks on the stones and the walls themselves hinted at a deadly battle.
“I wonder who they were.” Xin murmured.
“And who attacked.” Geb pointed. “There’s burn marks up there.”
“I wonder who won.” Tier looked up at the structures on the cliff-side. “Unbelievable.”
“Tier, is that, smoke?” Rale asked.
Tier looked in the direction Rale pointed and swore. “No.”
“Sandstorm!” Geb darted through the breach. “There’s a building here, big enough for the horses.”
They scrambled inside as howling wind carrying a wall of sand advanced. It was cramped and stuffy and when the wind and sand reached them, it filled with choking air and dust. They huddled, for how long Tier wasn’t sure. When it finally passed, the shadows had lengthened and the air had an odd, ruddy color to it.
“That’s what we saw.” Tier rubbed his forehead. He was about to suggest heading back towards the canyon when he felt it again, a flutter of power against his mind. This time it was further away. He leaned back against the wall trying not to swear aloud.
“It’s no wonder it was abandoned.” Rale said. They’d stayed the night in the long, low building and were exploring, cautiously, the ruins between the wall and the buildings. “No food, no water,”
“There is water.” Xin corrected him. “I feel it, in this direction.” She motioned towards two tall circular buildings.
“Aside from that, I don’t know how a place this big would support any kind of,” Rale hesitated, looking up in the sky. “Population.”
“Floating rocks maybe?” Tier suggested.
“Shouldn’t we see them? From here?” Xin asked.
“One would think.” Rale snorted. “Hey Geb, no wandering off!”
Tier followed Xin towards the round buildings, looking for any wisps or ghosts of the city’s former occupants. Nothing. He glanced back towards the city wall. There must have been a vicious battle. The death toll must have been staggering.
“Tier, look at what Geb found.” Rale’s voice had an odd hollow tone to it. Tier sighed. Rale and Geb hurried over to him, Geb held a strange cloth covered something in his trembling hands. Rale’s face was pale. “This fabric,” He handed the package to Tier. “It looks familiar.”
It was heavy, square and the gray fabric was wrapped several times around it. He carefully unwrapped it, pausing when he reached a hem complete with a knotted tassel. The tassel reminded him of the priest robes at the Oracle.
“Priest robe, perhaps?”
“Why would a priest of Nekar come out this way to hide something?” Geb asked.
Tier looked at Rale who shrugged, and continued unwrapping. When he reached the item it was wrapping, his breath caught. The cloth fluttered to the ground, unnoticed.
“A book?” Geb asked.
“Not just a book.” Rale’s voice sounded strangled. Tier couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dark brown leather cover. Set in the center, in gold filigree, was a large eye; curling up on one end, down on the other and sliced across by three slash marks. The symbol had dominated his childhood, was embroidered on every Nekarian flag that flew.
“I don’t believe it.” Tier swallowed and crouched. He felt a bit light headed as he carefully opened the book.
“I’ll be damned.” Rale whispered. “What is this doing out here?”
Tier shook his head, carefully turning the gold edged pages.
“Ok, we’re in the dark over here.” Xin knelt beside him, touching his arm. “What is it?”
“It’s a national treasure.” Rale answered before Tier could form words. “The genealogy of the Imperial household.”
“It was stolen before I was born, I’ve only heard tales of it.” Tier murmured.
Rale took the book and glanced at Tier. He flipped back to the first two pages, running his finger over the precise script. “The first Emperor, and his wife. The further you go, the closer to now the book gets. It lists every major union to the Imperial House, every child born, every death.” He flipped back to the last page with writing. “Looks like it stops right after your parents got married.” He looked at Tier.
“That fits.” Tier took the book back, leafing through the pages casually. “Father went to enter Maen’s birth in it and discovered it was missing.” He frowned as he turned the pages. Every now and then he caught sight if the Seeress’s symbol besides names. He returned to the first page, then slowly flipped towards his parents’ entry. Every Empress had symbols of their households drawn beside the name. But every four or five generations was her symbol. He closed the book and glanced down at the cloth mind racing.
“It’s been around since the beginning of the Empire?” Geb asked incredulously.
“For a book over a thousand years old, it’s in very good shape.” Xin said.
“They say the Seeress used her powers to keep it as though it was new.” Tier said.
“Or it gets replaced every few generations, to make it look like it is preserved.” Xin crossed her arms. “I wouldn’t put it past them.”
“This is a priest robe then.” Rale lifted it up. “Who would have done this?”
“I don’t know.” Tier hesitated.
A loud rattling and clacking sound bounced off the city walls and the cliffs, a shadow fell over them, swaying back and forth. Tier stood, aware the horses bolting back towards the round buildings. The caster of the shadow towered above them, it’s head larger than the horses and framed by a large red frill. The sharp snout opened revealing huge, thin sharp teeth. It hissed and Tier stepped back slowly, hand on the hilt of his sword.
“What is that?” Rale choked out.
The frills shook, accompanied by another long rattling sound. The tongue snaked out, forked at the end.
“That’s a sand dragon.” Geb whispered.
“A what?” Rale drew his own sword, standing beside Tier.
“A sand dragon. They’re supposed to be myth!” Geb grabbed Tier’s arm. “We have to get out of here, I think it might be hungry!”
The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Oct 16th.
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Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun
Thanks for reading.