Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
“And you were unable to glean anything at all from Sandau?” General Dyrnos asked with a scowl.
“No.” Tier sat in the War Hall in the Imperial Palace. At the table sat his father and others in the Nekarian High Command. All eyes were on him. His head pounded as though the room was full of holiday drummers. It started shortly before arriving at the Palace, and wasn’t letting up. “Lord Nesh escorted Rale and I out within a day of our arrival.”
General Dyrnos sighed and shook his head. “Typical.”
“And your mission for the Seeress? Was it successful?” The Emperor asked. The silence was heavy. Tier could see the concern written on the faces of the men and women he’d trained with and mentored under for years. Even his headache faded momentarily, as if awaiting his reply. His gut twisted.
“Both a success and a failure, sir. I was forced to leave behind those I was sent to find.” He said slowly.
“But you found the Water Master’s daughter though?” Lord Faruq asked, leaning forward.
Tier studied the man for a long time, heart pounding in his ears. “I was not told I was seeking anyone’s daughter.” He pulled out the little black scroll the Seeress had given him on his departure and unrolled it, skimming over the contents before handing it to the Lord. “Those were my orders.”
The Lord frowned, reading it, and handed it to the woman sitting beside him. It was passed around in silence before returned to Tier who dropped it on the table top in front of him.
“That raises questions,” The man began.
“Which are irrelevant.” The Emperor cut him off. He pinned Tier with a sharp look. “I know your time in Sandau was limited. From what you saw, how well do you think they’d fare in a siege?”
Tier frowned. “The longer you wait, the stronger they’ll be. They are expecting us to move. Right now, the city walls are more decorative than functional, from what I saw. But they’re being buffered.”
The Emperor nodded and leaned forward. “Next winter I want Sandau to be ours.”
Tier leaned back in his chair, the headache was close to blinding. The others were nodding though watching him.
“Shortly after you left on your mission, Jaktor fell. And two days ago, Lord Chiron sent word that the fort finally fell. That gives us two clear paths towards Sandau and the northern lands. I want you at the head of that army.” The Emperor leaned forward. “I want you march out as soon as the passes clear in the spring.”
“I live to serve.” Tier murmured, rubbing his temples.
The meeting continued, discussion of the recent victories and future plans, but he participated less. With each passing moment it felt like claws were scratching at his mind. When the meeting ended he stayed sitting, letting the others leave before he stood.
“Chiron wrote a fairly nasty letter regarding your passing through.” The Emperor said gravely, standing.
“Did he?” Tier forced his eyes to focus on his father, his heart drumming loud in his ears.
“He indicated that he felt you switched sides.”
Tier blinked. “What?”
“He said you threatened to rip his arms off. Over the woman he claimed was the water master’s daughter.”
Tier exhaled in a hiss. “I didn’t threaten to take his arms off. I told him if he touched her I wouldn’t restrain myself.”
The Emperor chuckled. “You scared the shit out of him.”
“Good. He threatened her well-being and publicly insulted her, repeatedly.” Tier stood. “Be assured, my loyalty is to Nekar, and has always been so.”
“And the woman?” The Emperor raised a hand. “I have never known you to threaten violence over a woman.”
“She saved my life, father.” Tier said slowly. “If for no other reason I owed her.”
“Perhaps when you take Sandau she will still be there.” the Emperor said softly. “Bring her back…”
Tier shrugging. “She’s an Elemental. There are far more elementals in the world than we’ve been led to believe.”
The Emperor’s eyes went wide and he nodded. “I see. It is most unfortunate. Maen seems to have no interest in taking a wife,”
“Your mother wants grandchildren before she dies.” The Emperor grinned at him.
Tier snorted, rubbing his forehead. “Before I forget, I wanted to warn you Chiron is running Delebeg into the ground.”
“He’s managed to keep the water limited to the royal grounds, doling it out to the rest of the city in limited amounts.”
“I believe there is trouble, possibly civil unrest brewing in Delebeg.” Tier leaned against the back of the chair he’d been sitting in. “I know you are focused on taking Sandau, but perhaps you should wait.”
“The problem in Delebeg is a storm-cloud brewing. When it lets loose,”
“We cannot give the northerners a chance to build up their defenses.” The Emperor held up his hand. “We will address the Delebeg situation, but right now those passes are our ticket to the plains. We,”
“You said we, you and whom else?” Tier studied his father. The man who had towered over him as a child, frightening him, seemed diminished. Age was showing, and realizing it, he was startled. His father, old?
“The Seeress has outlined her plans for the future. She wants,” the Emperor chuckled. “I want Sandau as a province.”
“It would strain our manpower over time. The Sandau are not to be taken lightly.”
“No. Of course not. But they don’t have what we do. We have the Gods on our side. The Seeress,”
“Who rules Nekar, father?”
The Emperor froze, his face stern. “Tier, I rule. I am the Emperor, do you doubt my power?”
“No!” Tier swallowed. “If the Seeress doesn’t rule, then why does she have such influence on what decisions you make?”
“Tier.” His father’s voice was heavy. “To ask such questions is unwise.”
“Why? You’re the Emperor.” Tier refused to back down.
“Without the Seeress our family wouldn’t be in power. Our people would nothing but nomads wandering the deserts. We, as a people, owe her. If she asks me for the moon, I will do everything in my power to give it to her.”
Tier nodded, gripping the back of the chair. “It has been a long trip. I still have to report to the Seeress.” He spoke carefully.
“Welcome home son.” To his surprise the Emperor embraced him. “Tonight is the Festival of Hope. Maen and Hannah are both here, stay. Join us. Your mother would be very pleased to see you. Tomorrow you can go and report to the Seeress, but for tonight, stay. It has been a long time since you were in these halls.”
“I will.” Tier forced a smile. Despite being home, where he knew he belonged, he felt empty. He missed Xin.
His old rooms were pristine, large, decorated as befit his station. They were hollow. It had been years since he’d been in the Palace for an extended period of time. He preferred his estates, far simpler, out of the way. It would be a while before he’d be able to get back. He’d come in earlier, to clean up before meeting with his father, and left his travel things beside the large bed. Now he stood, trying to think around the pain. He did a quick check of his weapons, untouched as were his bags. He sank on one of the chairs at the desk staring at the hard leather covering. What was she doing now? Learning no doubt. Launi said she’d assign teachers to ensure she could improve their gifts. Gifts, not a curse. When had he stopped thinking of them as elementals? He couldn’t remember. She was just Xin, who had faced far more in her life, who had risked far more than he had.
“Is she beautiful?” the soft voice broke through his thoughts. He half turned towards the door, unable to keep from smiling. His younger sister leaned against the door jam. Hannah smiled at him, her dark eyes sparkling from some inner joke.
“What?” Her question barely registered past his headache. It had been almost two years since he’d seen her. She was less the gangly child and more a young woman.
“The woman you threatened Chiron over. It’s all over the palace. Is she beautiful?” She stepped into the room, her long skirts rustling loudly with each step.
Tier half turned away lifting one of the bags. For a brief moment he could almost see Xin, her large soft blue eyes twinkling. “She is, exquisite.”
“Why didn’t you bring her back, then?” Hannah asked coming up beside him. She leaned against his shoulder.
Tier sighed. “Wouldn’t have worked, Hannah. She’s not exactly an ally.” he met his sister’s eyes. She frowned.
“Oh.” She sighed. “Still, you should have anyways. I would like to meet a woman who had my brother threatening to tear a man’s arms off!” She grinned up at him.
“That was an exaggeration. Aren’t you supposed to be in Arhein?” He needed to change the subject.
“I wanted to come back here for festival. And father is planning to find me a husband.” She leaned against him. “I was hoping you’d be home soon.”
“Will you then be around for a while?” She stepped back as he stood. Tier smiled down at her.
“I’ll be here for the festivities tonight.”
“Oh good, there’s supposed to be some sort of unveiling.”
“Unveiling?” Tier frowned.
“One of father’s new pet projects. Finding a way to cross the mountains by air instead of on foot.” Hannah shrugged. “They’re supposed to be showing off the new air-carriage at the height of the festival.”
“Father didn’t say anything about that. Is that why Maen is here?”
“Possibly. No fighting with him, please. I’ve seen the two of you in the same room.” She batted her eyes at him.
“I’ll try to keep my mouth shut.”
“I promise.” He gave her a quick hug. “I have an awful headache though, squirt. I need to nap this off before tonight. I’ll see you at the festival.”
She smiled, going back to the door. “I’ll hunt you down if you don’t show.”
He chuckled and nodded. “I’ll be there.” She turned to leave then whirled back around, her skirts twisting about her legs, hands clasped tightly in front of her.
“Do you miss her?”
Tier gritted his teeth. “Go on squirt. My head is about to burst.”
She sighed and left, closing the door behind her gently. He stared at it for a long time before making his way to the bed. Once in it, he closed his eyes, hoping sleep would take away the pain, but sleep was a long way off. He could see Xin in his mind’s eye, as she had been in the kitchen in Sandau. Those overlarge eyes, soft hair that felt like silk in his hands. He hoped, prayed to whatever god might be listening that when they marched on Sandau she would be gone.
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