Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
Tier leaned against the wall, staying out of the way of the nobles circling the strange invention that dominated the inner courtyard. They reminded him of buzzards in the desert, waiting for something to die. Though he spotted a few people he recognized, but had no desire to speak to them. His head still hurt. He rubbed his forehead and stared at the thing floating at the end of thick ropes in the courtyard.
Thick brown cloth of varying shades were patch-worked together in an oblong ball and floated above them. Ropes were slung criss cross over the top, attached to a wide, low basket hanging underneath it. The basket was anchored to a fountain, bobbing gently with each movement of the floating ball. There was some sort of metal stove with a chimney attached to the underside of the ball, where a small round opening allowed the smoke from the stove to fill the ball. Tier couldn’t tell how it stayed hanging just underneath the opening. The nobles passing between him and the strange thing blocked his view. The outside of the basket had several heavy looking bags tied to the outside of it.
A group of men huddled beside the fountain, holding something and pointing from it to the floating thing and making exaggerated gestures. It was only a matter of time before one of them would hit a passing noble.
“They say it will change the future.”
Tier swallowed a sigh, glancing over at his overdressed elder brother. Maen crossed his arms and gestured towards the thing. “They say it can go over the mountains and will render the passes unnecessary.”
“You’ll never get me in one of those things.” Tier grumped. Maen sneered and shook his head.
“You look like a vagabond.”
“You look like a peacock.” Tier glanced beyond Maen, looking for and failing to locate Hannah.
Maen’s eyes narrowed, he half turned, facing the air-boat but staying within punching distance.
“How was Chiron?”
Tier gritted his teeth. “Drunk last time I saw him.”
Maen snickered. “And the woman? I’d half hoped to meet her.”
“What you heard was an exaggeration.” Tier forced himself to keep his voice steady.
“But where is she?” Maen seemed genuinely curious.
“She stayed in Sandau.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two in the same room at the same time!” Hannah stepped from the crowd, sliding between them with a smile.
“We can be civil.” Tier gritted out.
“Mostly.” Maen inclined his head. “Though it might be best to not push our luck. Good to see you again, Tier.” He turned and strode off not waiting for a reply.
“Don’t come back.” Tier muttered. Hannah gripped his arm, leaning against him.
“Be nice, Tier. He’s been worried about you.”
Tier looked down at her in surprise. She nodded and tugged slightly.
“Walk with me, please?”
He smothered a sigh but nodded, letting her guide him through the crowd towards the other end of the courtyard. He ignored the stares and whispers of those he strode past, locking his gaze on the heavily jeweled figure leaning against a pillar near the far door.
The Empress smiled, stepping slowly from the pillar. Each movement was stiff, slow, though her smile was warm, her eyes were shadowed with pain. Tier hugged her gently, stepping back.
“You’ve been gone for far too long.” She said, linking her arm through his.
“Father keeps me busy.” He glanced down at her, noting how thin she seemed. Her cheekbones far more pronounced than he remembered. “You don’t look well.”
“Tier!” Hannah protested.
“Don’t worry about me, Tier.” The Empress nodded towards the contraption in the courtyard. “What do you think of that?”
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Mother?” Hannah motioned towards a group of youths. The Empress inclined her head and Tier watched her make her way over to them.
“You have not yet seen the Seeress, have you?” The Empress’s voice was low. Tier shook his head. She sighed, patting his arm. “After you see her, come home for a time.”
Tier met her eyes and nodded. She patted his arm again and stepped away, turning stiffly and making her way up the steps and into the palace. A loud gong sounded behind him, the pounding in his head got worse as he turned and looked again at the thing in the courtyard.
A thin man stood in front of the basket, he gave a bow. “Ladies and Gentlemen, your Excellency,” he swallowed his forehead glistened. “Your Imperial Majesty, forgive me.” He cleared his throat as chuckles and snickers ran through the gathering crowd.
Tier frowned. He hadn’t seen his father earlier, now he spotted the Emperor, standing off to one side of the crowd, a young woman Tier didn’t recognize on his arm. Tier was about to make his way over, but the thin man, who reminded Tier of a long twig, began to speak.
“Behind me is what I’ve called an air-boat.” He rested a trembling hand on the basket, the floating ball above bobbed with the weight. “This one carried myself and a couple passengers through the sky days ago.”
A whisper ran through the crowd.
“How many people can it carry?” A voice called.
“This one can carry three. However, we are working on a larger one, which can carry at least ten.” He looked towards the Emperor. “Our great nation has been confined south of the mountains for an eon. This is our chance to show the world what Nekar can really accomplish. With this, and others like it, we can expand far beyond the mountains.”
The silence was heavy. Tier glanced at his father again. The Emperor was nodding.
“With the right funding, we can outfit the army with these air ships.” The man swallowed. “Imagine, no longer a need for sieges, but dropping forces directly inside the city walls.”
“Impressive. Promising.” The Emperor motioned the air-boat. “How do you steer it?”
The man swallowed and motioned to one of the bags hanging on the side of the basket. “We’re working on improving our methods of steering it, at the moment,”
“The wind takes you where it wants you to go, you mean?”
“Well, yes. But we’re working on,”
“I’ve seen enough.” The Emperor shook his head. “Get this out of my palace.”
The Emperor and his companion left the courtyard. The silence was deafening and the twig man turned from the crowd, leaning against the side of the basket.
“So much for a pet project.” Tier muttered, taking a final look around. People were huddled in groups whispering, no one was looking in his direction. He left. He had more important things to do. Like prepare for his meeting with the Seeress.
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