Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
Xin watched from her bedroll as the prince returned to his, a small wooden box in his hands. He pulled out several small old looking scrolls and skimmed over their contents before pulling out a thin chain with a strange amulet on it. He stared at it with that deep frown, his thumb brushing over its face before tucking it into his belt pouch.
“Where did you find those?” Xin asked. He didn’t look her way, though his eyebrow quirked. He unrolled another scroll.
“Upstairs, hidden under a stone.” He shook his head.
“Did a ghost show you where it was?” Xin asked, half teasing. She hesitated. He paled and glanced at her, his dark eyes unreadable. She swallowed, heart hammering in her ears and scanned the large hall. “Are there any floating around right now?”
“No.” He looked back down at the pile of scrolls, brows pulling together, and lifted a small black scroll. “Interesting.” He murmured, unrolling it.
“What is it?” Xin scooted over to get a better look. It was, she told herself, to avoid waking up Rale.
“This is a summons scroll.” Tier said, frowning as he scanned over the contents. “It’s a request to go to meet with the Seeress.”
“Don’t the Nekarians worship her?” Xin asked.
“Some do.” He rolled the scroll tightly and set it in the bottom of the box before returning the other scrolls atop it. “They say she has guided and protected Nekar for a thousand years.”
“Killing any who oppose her.” Xin snorted.
“No.” Tier shook his head. “Her visions have guided our people, sometimes sacrifices must be made.”
“It seems tyrannical to me. What happens if her orders are ignored? Perhaps peace would break out?”
“The Empire could be diminished.” He closed the box, tucking it into his travel pack. He rummaging through the bag, frowning. “She gives orders for the betterment of the Empire. We are just tools.”
“Do you really believe that?” Xin asked. He looked at her, surprised.
Xin frowned. “If it wasn’t your duty to locate and return living elementals to her, would you kill me?” Xin asked in a low voice. Tier stilled, eyes darting back to his travel sack.
“I would do my duty.” He said slowly. “But if she hadn’t ordered me here, I would not have needed a guide, nor been in this part of the world.” He lifted an unlit torch, stood and went to the torch in the wall, lighting the new one off the old.
“Is that all there is?” Xin swallowed, scrambling to her feet.
“Hmm?” He strode across the room, lifting the torch above his head. Xin followed at a distance. She didn’t want to wake up Rale.
“Duty, is that all there is to you?”
“Mostly.” He glanced down at her then pointed to the mural and set the fresh torch in the empty holder beside the mural. He stepped back, staring up at the wall.
“Mostly?” Xin shook her head. “I would’ve expected to hear tales of court gossip and exploits of the nobility.”
He looked at her and laughed “From Rale, from my brother or sister, yes you’d get an earful. I avoid it personally.”
“Court is a den of backbiting vipers. I don’t have the temperament for it.” He glanced her way. “As you pointed out, I’m a bad liar.” He tipped his head to one side and muttered an oath under his breath, going back to his travel packs. He returned with a folded and travel worn parchment. He lifted it up, eyes flickering back and forth between parchment and mural.
Xin looked at the mural, she’d always loved it. It was of woman holding her multicolored skirts in each hand in what may have been a curtsy. Her face was lost in the shadows and the plaster where her feet were had long ago crumbled. The skirt, though, was brightly colored, dotted with jewels, whispering of another time. Xin glanced at the parchment Tier was holding up and gasped, involuntarily stepping closer.
“You see it too?”
“It’s a map.” She looked up at him. “The mural’s a map!”
“It is, roughly. It’s missing some cities.” He pointed. “Lorn, Hagish, and the capital, and nothing is named. But look up there, those could be cities, they’re not on my map though. How old do you think this is?”
“I’m not sure. Matau had nothing to say about it.” Xin shrugged.
“Probably wasn’t exciting enough.” He said dryly.
Xin nodded, frowning. The colors on the skirt nibbled at her, reminding her of an old rhyme she’d been told long ago. She rubbed her forehead, trying to remember the words.
“Tier, that there,” she pointed to the parchment then to the equivalent on the mural. “That is Dhaul, right?”
“It’s in blue, see? Delebeg is in brown…”
“There was a song we used to sing as children, each elemental had a color assigned to them.” Xin said softly. “Earth was brown, air was white, water blue, fire,”
“Red.” He blinked looking at the map in his hands.
“It shows what regions the elementals occupied.” Xin looked up at him. “Might give you an idea of where you’re going to go next.”
Tier looked at her. “And where will you go?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She stared towards the mural. “I haven’t given it much thought yet.”
“Come with us.”
Xin swallowed, unable to meet his eyes. “And eventually meet the Seeress?” She forced herself to look at him. “Who is responsible, ultimately, for my mother being run out, for me being in exile?”
He looked away and shook his head. “I don’t know what to say.” He looked back at her. “My mission, my life depends on me being able to locate elementals, and take them back to her. I can’t change the rules.”
She looked up towards the mural. “What does she want with us?”
“She claimed it was to heal damage from the Elemental War.”
“Claimed?” She frowned. “You doubt it?”
He scowled. “Questioning her can be fatal.”
“I have to think about it.”
“We’d have to go to Delebeg,” Rale’s voice made her jump. “It’s a straight shot from here.”
“I hate the desert.” Tier said folding the parchment and moving back towards their bedrolls.
“Chiron is governor of Delebeg isn’t he?” Rale’s asked.
“He was last I heard. I don’t hear much from that area though. I know he had some sort of uprising near his northern borders.”
“And after Delebeg?”
“Depends on if we locate an Earth Elemental. There are a couple small towns north of Delebeg we can check. After that, I don’t know.”
Xin barely heard Rale’s reply, she studied the mural. There were other colors edging the skirt and then there was the odd blot in the south/bottom part of the dress. Nekar, home of the Seeress. Xin shuddered glancing towards the fire. The men were deep in conversation, discussing other possible places to go, neither seemed to notice her.
She drifted towards the entry, glanced back at the fire one last time before ducking into the now soggy courtyard. She felt the call of the water and struggled to resist it. Everything that had happened, the flash flood, the rocks, crashed down on her. She forced herself to breathe. She wasn’t going to cry, she wouldn’t let herself cry. What was the point?
Matau tried to kill her. She shouldn’t have been surprised, he was one of the first to run her mother out, but Xin was still having a hard time believing it. He would have killed her if Tier hadn’t stepped in the way. She owed him her life. That didn’t sit well with her.
Was that any better a fate than being stoned? It was Tier’s duty to find people like her and turn them over to the Seeress. And if he didn’t… Xin sighed. The seeress was not known for being understanding.
Tier intrigued her. He was the Seeress’s chosen seeker, like the stories whispered in the dunurch late at night. He would do her bidding, and according to the old ones, eventually die in her service.
None survived for long, the old men had said, few could stand being in the Seeress’s presence for long. Fewer still able to walk away from a mission unscathed. She leaned back against a large block that faced the front gates, and stared up at the stars peeking from the clouds. What in the world was she going to do? She pulled her legs up on the rock, wrapping her arms around her legs and propping her chin on her knees. She felt the tears, the sobs, the reality of her awful situation and pressed her forehead against her knees crying.
The storm of tears passed, and she shivered in the chill air. She needed to get back to her bedroll, get some sleep and try to decide in the morning where she was going to go. Something was draped over her shoulders, she looked up blinking in surprise. Tier was standing just an arm’s length away.
“It’s kind of cold out here.” He said adjusting the blanket he’d draped over her shoulders. “Are you alright?”
She shrugged staring up at the moon. “He tried to kill me. He would have too if you and Rale hadn’t…” She gripped the blanket tightening it around her shoulders.
She could almost feel how awkward he must be feeling. She pressed her forehead against her knees again fighting sobs. She felt his hand resting on her shoulder, attempted comfort from a man who would kill her in a heartbeat?
“Rale is asleep again.” He said, the tone of his voice had an odd timbre to it. “Come back inside where it is warmer.” he was gently rubbing her back, the soothing caress was making her drowsy.
“If I go with you, after all this is over, where will I go?” she whispered. She looked at him, barely a shadowy outline in the darkness.
“We’ll figure that out later. Right now you ought to get to sleep.”
“You too.” She said sharply, but she slid off the rock gripping the blanket.
“Possibly.” he said. He followed her back inside and Xin wondered what he saw that she didn’t. When she turned to ask she found herself spun back around to face the fire, his hands steel on her shoulders. “You don’t want to know what I see, Xin.”
The next chapter will be posted Thurs, July 3rd.
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Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!
Thanks for reading. 🙂
(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix