Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.*
The old fortress road snaked back and forth up the side of the mountain, doubling back on itself several times. It was overgrown with pines, conifers, and an assortment of underbrush Tier was unfamiliar with. The road leveled out for about a quarter of a league before coming to a large pillar with carvings in a language he’d never seen before. The road they were on continued, disappearing over a rise. A smaller road, little more than a game trail shot off from the main one, twisting up the steep rise.
“What do those markings mean?” Rale asked Xin. She glanced toward the pillar and shrugged.
“I have no idea.” She pointed towards the game trail. “We go that way.”
Rale groaned. The trees were so close together and the branches so low they’d have to dismount and lead their horses through.
“Why?” He asked. Tier shook his head.
Xin half turned. “You want to get to the fortress, correct?” She pointed. “It’s at the top of the mountain. This is the only road to it.”
“The other road…”
“Takes you to Delebeg, past the path of the bandits.” The old man said, his voice impatient. “Xin, Slow down.”
Tier choked back a chuckle when the woman increased her pace.
“What was that Matau? I can’t hear you.” She paused by a tree and leaned against it. She inclined her head as Tier got closer.
“Enjoying yourself?” he asked. She shrugged.
“When he starts complaining, you’ll want to put as much distance between your ears and his mouth as you can.” she said, glancing towards Rale and Matau.
“You might want to give them a hand. That horse isn’t going to cooperate.”
Tier sighed, looking back. The old man and Rale were unsuccessfully trying to move the horse past a tree leaning over the trail. The beast was having none of it, jerking his head and pulling back. Tier handed the reins of his horse to Xin and picked his way back down the trail, removing his cloak as he went. When he reached the horse, he gently slid it over the frightened beast’s eyes from behind. The horse stiffened, body trembling and Tier spoke to it, taking the reins from Rale and urging the beast forward. It took a hesitant step forward, then another. Once they were past the tree stump he removed the cloak and handed the reins back to Rale.
“Show off.” Rale grumbled. Tier barely cast a glance his way, climbing back up the path. Xin was staring, wide eyed at his horse who was nuzzling at her.
“Is it going to bite me?” she whispered hoarsely.
Tier took the reins and shook his head. “No. He’s just being friendly.” He took a couple steps up the trail, glancing down at her. Her eyes were still wide. “Are you coming?”
Her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched. She pushed from the tree, moving past him and his horse, shooting him a dark look. He waited till she passed him to smile.
She wasn’t joking about Matau’s complaining. Everything was subject to being bitched about. From the weather, to the village to Nekar, and even the Seeress, the man was both a drain on the ears and well of information. Though most of it was twenty years old and the subjects were long dead and buried. His voice echoed off the trees and rocks as they neared the sheer cliffs at the base of the mountain, the shadows growing long and the sky turning a pale orange.
Against the base of the cliff was a small cabin facing the narrow stream. Tall pines blocked out much of the sky on the sharp slope, far too thick to see through. Tier took over taking care of the horses as his guides prepared the dinner. Rale hovered by the food, as if unsure of what to do next. Tier paused in his ministrations of the horses to watch Xin hand Rale a deep pan and told him to get some water. The silence was telling.
Rale stared at her, glancing down at the pan in his hands and looked back up at her.
“What?” She rested her hands on her knees, crouched and balancing on the balls of her feet. “The stream is right over there, go fill that.”
“Me?” His voice spoke volumes.
Xin narrowed her eyes, shooting a look at Tier. “Is he kidding?”
Tier shook his head, pulling the saddle and sweat soaked saddle blanket from Rale’s mount. “You should have seen the look on his face the first night we had to sleep on the ground.”
She looked back at Rale. “You walk over to the stream, dip the pan in it then bring it back here, full of water.”
Rale turned stiffly, shooting some very ugly looks Tier’s way, and did so. Tier finished with Rale’s horse, moved on to his, only half listening to the endless complaining of the old man. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a pale mist, drifting between the trees just beyond the treeline. His horse and Rale’s stilled, nickering softly, ears flicking back and forth. Tier ignored it, focusing on his horse, a fine war-bred beast that had taken him through many a battle.
He couldn’t avoid seeing it when he returned to the cabin with the saddles. Up the path they were to take in the morning, tendrils of mist crept down, towards the clearing. He hesitated on the porch. On either side of the path were old stones, carved in a similar fashion to the crossroads pillar. The mist kept distance from the stones. Deeper in the forest, as the shadows grew even longer, he saw the silvery shapes forming, and more mist crept down the path. He forced himself to look towards the stream, to ignore the tendrils of mist creeping into the clearing.
“Tier can I have a word with you?” Rale asked, he looked a touch disgruntled.
Rale snorted. “Why do we need guides?” he hissed. “You’re more than capable of getting us to the Fortress.”
Tier glanced towards the fire where Matau crouched, setting the tri-legged spider over the crackling flames. Xin handed him things to put into the pot. Her braided hair hung over one shoulder the end just above the dirt and she fiddled with it absently, staring back the way they’d come.
“The Seeress wanted us to start our search here, for a reason.” Tier said slowly. He looked back at Rale. “I think she knew something.” Rale shook his head.
“You think she’s an elemental?” He hissed. “You do, don’t you?”
Tier hesitated. “I think there’s a chance she is. You heard what the old man said, her mother was a water elemental.”
Rale nodded, glancing back at their guides. “How do we…” he trailed off and looked at Tier. “What do we do next?”
“I don’t know. Wait and see.” Tier shrugged and pushed into the cabin, setting the saddles on the floor just inside the door. “What else can we do?”
The next chapter will be posted Tues, June 17th.
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(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix