Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
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.”
“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.
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.
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Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!
Thanks for reading.