Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. I’m sorry this bit took so long to get to you. Hope you all enjoy it.
Ryuu was fixated on a small black beetle on the ground. His nose twitched and his frill rustled as he crept slowly followed it,his body undulating with each step. Xin leaned against the fence watching him, part of her amused. The questions Launi had asked swirled in her mind, and old half forgotten memories were trying to whisper at her. Her mother’s voice, Matau’s, stories she hadn’t remembered until after she’d left. All of them were bubbling up, faint memories of rebellion talk and argument. She rubbed her forehead and made a note to try to write it down, to tell Launi after the festival. For now she fought remembering whatever it was that wanted her to remember.
Her jumbled thoughts halted abruptly as a faint breeze breeze danced over her skin. She smiled and half turned. Aitelle absently pushed her hair back and leaned against the rail beside her.
“What did she want?” The Air Elemental bumped her shoulder against Xin’s. “You look like you’re about to fall asleep right there.”
Xin stared at the sand dragon and took a deep breath. “She wanted to know about Dhaul. About my family.And old rumors.” She looked at Aitelle. “Nothing big. Nothing I was able to answer though.”
“She did that with me.” Aitelle shuddered. “It was hard trying to explain the village I was from. How I found Ryuu,”
“How did you find him?” Xin asked and instantly regretted it when Aitelle grimaced. “Never mind, I’m sorry,”
“No. No it’s fine.” Aitelle made a clicking noise with her tongue and Ryuu’s head snapped up. The sand dragon made a whining noise and, being careful not to step on the bug, made his way over, pushing his snout against Aitelle’s outstretched hand. “When I was seven or eight I woke up early one morning and went out exploring.” She rubbed Ryuu’s muzzle and scratched the heavy ridge over his eyes. “I was practicing my abilities near a stream by the old *namehere* ruins.”
“The ruins?” Xin looked at her startled. The jumbled and twisted rock and metal they’d found in the desert. Tier had told them that it was the ruins of an ancient Air Elemental city. It was just beyond that, that they found the burned village. Xin’s stomach twisted painfully. Aitelle nodded, not looking her way.
“I saw smoke coming from the village.” Her voice dropped and she took a deep breath. “Nekarians burned it, killed everyone in their beds.” She looked at Xin. “I know they say that there are no elementals besides the seeress in Nekar, but there was an elemental there that day. She wore black with a flame symbol on her shoulder. She was burning everything. And everyone. And when some of the soldiers protested,” Aitelle shuddered. “She burned them too. All of them were afraid of her.”
Xin’s mouth went dry. More old memories, legends told around the dunarch fire pit in the cold, icy winters swirled up only to dissipate as Aitelle continued.
“I ran into the canyons. I don’t remember how far, or how long.” She tipped her head looking at Ryuu and sad smile on her face. “I stumbled down a steep hill and found the nest. All the eggs had been cut, were moldy, but his. He hatched in front of me and we’ve been together ever since. We made our way here to Sandau.” She scratched Ryuu’s eyeridge laughing as the sand dragon’s eyes slowly closed, his back leg and tail twitching madly.
“Launi was very thorough when she asked questions. I still have headaches thinking about it.” Aitelle looked at her. “Festival is tomorrow and tonight is the Opening Ceremony. Lots of food, dancing, happy things. Come on, it’s a beautiful ceremony. You can’t stay here while the rest of us are having fun.”
Xin hesitated then nodded. Aitelle beamed, though there was still a heavy saddness around her. Xin linked her arm through Aitelle’s and they talked quietly as they made their way back to the town square.
The sun was sinking below the horizon and the paper lanterns gently, magically lit lighting the walkways. Some of the townsfolk began singing as Xin and Aitelle sat on the steps of a large house, and were joined by Geb and several other youths he’d befriended. Across from them was the entrance to the Temple where Lady Launi, now in a near sparkling bare armed gown stood. Lord Nesh and several others were nearby talking in low, serious voices.
A loud gong rang and Xin could hear the sounds of chimes, bells and flutes and a cheer from those watching. The priests and priestesses of Sandanu, the dragon god of the Sandau people, were coming up the road joyfully singing, though Xin couldn’t make out the words.
There were ceremonies like this, back in Dhaul, celebrations honoring the old powers of the water elementals and the yearly festival celebrating the god Dagoth and the Seeress, but they were often overshadowed by dread. The Seeress’s hunters and sometimes the Voice, would attend those celebrations, ensuring that the Seeress was given her proper respect. Those watching were haunted by the knowledge that the Seeres could, at any time, decide Dhaul had outlived its usefulness.
When that happened, the oldtimers whispered, no one would be spared. It would be the slaughter of the fortress all over again. Xin rubbed her upper arms, fighting off a sudden chill. What had happened when Tier and Rale arrived in Nekar? There had been no whisper, no word. She’d half expected Tier to send some message, some note. Something, letting her know he was well. She was left to wonder, and dreaded the answer. There was a touch on her shoulder and she glanced over forcing herself to smile at the concerned Geb. He leaned over.
“Are you all right?” Those large eyes saw far more than they should.
Xin nodded and patted his hand. “Just thinking.” Understanding lit his eyes and he nodded, turning his gaze back on the priests passing in front of them.
The priests were carrying two altars, one with a statue of a dragon, wings unfurled, mouth agape. The other had a statue of a nude woman on horseback with a child in front of her, a spear raised over her head.
“Sandanu the Dragon god, and his lover Sensua the Horse Goddess.” Aitelle said in a low voice. Xin glanced at her. Aitelle’s eyes were bright, as though she were going to cry.
“She’s naked.” Geb said dryly. Aitelle swiped at him but he ducked, sticking his tongue out at her.
A woman standing nearby laughed, leaning towards them. “Legend says she preferred going as nature intended. Much to the delight of the tribesmen.”
“I’d bet.” Aitelle chucked.
“She taught the Sandau people how to ride, how to hunt on horseback.” Another woman said, nodding towards the procession.
“She was woman before Sandanu made her his lover, made her a goddess.” The first woman said.
“She was human?” Xin asked. The woman made her way over and nodded.
“And she became lovers with a dragon god?” Geb was frowning. “How?”
“Some things we just don’t question.” The second woman said sagely.
Xin chuckled, watching Launi and the Priests as they set the two statues on pedestals. She couldn’t hear what was said, but a feeling of peace filled the town square and someone, somewhere started to sing. Xin didn’t recognize the tune, or the haunting words.
“Tomorrow are the Elemental Trials.” Aitelle whispered to Xin as the singing ended and they started to make their way back to the Inn.
“Trials?” Xin glanced at her.
“Just a friendly competition between elementals of certain upper ranks. I love watching them. And when the Masters step up,” Aitelle sighed with a smile. “Things get really flashy!”
They gathered around the training grounds near dawn. The townsfolk were dressed in their finery, colors and patterns reflecting which of the elemental groups they were supporting. Aitelle was in pale blue shirt and trousers, her hair piled on top of her head.
“They’re placing bets on who will win.” Aitelle patted her hand on a bench. They’d been set up a distance from the recently created moat. It was, she informed them, a safety feature. “Rumor has it, one year a large rock hit the crowd because they were too close.”
Xin stared at her. Aitelle smiled and nodded towards the hastily erected canopy on the far side of the training grounds. Lady Launi was standing with her head bowed and her brows pulled together. Alone the outer edges of the moat pale white glowing light shone, designs etched along the ground as if by an invisible hand were drawing them. “Lady Launi is preparing the protective glyphs so that doesn’t happen again.”
“What do the glyphs do?” Geb asked before Xin could.
“They keep rocks, flame and water inside the training ground.” Aitelle smoothed the front of her tunic. A cheer rose from the crowd as the sparring elementals entered the training grounds.
For several hours Xin found herself entranced, watching the powerful elementals casually use their abilities to block attacks, and strike out at their opponents. They took a break at mid-day, vendors brought drinks and food and when the gong was struck again, it was the first of the masters to have a go at it.
“I thought those others were good,” Geb murmured at her ear. “The masters,” he shook his head.
Geb nodded as they watched a water elemental and a rock shaper banter back and forth. Xin glanced at him and grinned, remembering their own little battle in the canyons of the deserts.
“We could teach em a thing or two.” Geb whispered. Xin nodded and joined the crowd in clapping when the water elemental knocked down the rock shaper and used the water as a hand to drag the rock shaper into the moat surrounding the sparring ground.
Xin didn’t hear the final score, the crowd began to cheer when Lady Iro and Lord Nesh stepped onto the sparring ground, talking in a light hearted manner. They were both in loose fitting clothing, tunics tied at the waist with thick colored rope. He in a deep red, her in a pale brown, the ropes at their waists matching their clothing. They bowed to each other and silence fell over the crowd in anticipation.
They faced each other, each in a fighting stance, eyes locked on each other. Xin barely saw the first movement, rock shot from the ground deflected from Nesh by a white blue flame. When the rock hit the ground it was glowing red. The two circled each other, then in a flurry of movement, rocks flew, flames shot from the ground and smoke filled the air as rocks melted.
Xin risked a glance at Geb, the youth’s jaw was slack his eyes wide.
“He’s melting the rocks.” He whispered.
“Some say he has the Holy Flame.” Aitelle said quietly, her eyes riveted on the Firelord.
“Euka said that. What is the Holy Flame?” Xin asked, flinching when Iro ducked, rolled under a stream of flame, then shot a heavy slab of stone from the ground at the Firelord.
“The Holy Flame.” Aitelle, let out a long hissing breath as Nesh narrowly avoided getting hit by the slab of stone. “Is the ultimate ability of a Firelord. Water Elementals have the Healing Spring, my people were said to have the Weather Control ability, and the Earth Shapers had metal and glass shaping. The Holy flame is a bit different. Some say it’s a healing flame, others say a wall of unstoppable force. But it’s different in each Firelord. No one knows for sure how Nesh’s would manifest, if he does have it. I’ve never heard anyone who has actually seen him do it.”
“Shades!” Geb hissed.
Xin glanced towards the sparring ground but missed whatever it was. Both Nesh and Iro were sloshing out of the moat, laughing. The crowd sighed as two tall elementals, a man and woman, stepped from under the canopy, hands help up. They spoke in quiet voices to Nesh and Iro before turning towards the crowd.
“A tie.” Aitelle shook her head. “They’ve tied the past three years.” Aitelle sighed.
“I don’t know how the judges could tell who was better.” Xin admitted, standing and stretching. The crowd was surging towards the dripping elemental masters.
“I barely understand it myself. There’s a huge following though. Up north there are whole seasons dedicated to the competitions.” Aitelle linked her arm with Xin’s and they made their way back to the old inn. “Someday I want to go north, to Tyrsleth and beyond.”
“What’s stopping you?”
Aitelle nodded towards the yard where Ryuu was sunning himself, stretched diagonally from one end of the yard to the other, his tail twitching periodically. “They say there are rouge dragons in the northern mountains. And it’s cold. I don’t know how he would handle the cold.”
“What does he do here?” Xin hadn’t considered it.
“There’s a basement under the inn, with a huge old baking oven. He usually sleeps through the coldest part of the year down there. I could, I suppose, travel north when he’s sleeping, but,” Aitelle frowned. “I’m afraid to leave him behind.”