Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
They left in the predawn light, following the trail back down to the crossroads. When they reached it, Xin stared at the path that wound it’s way back down to the village she’d grown up in. She couldn’t go back. Ever. Her stomach twisted. She turned, looking up at Tier.
“I’ll accompany you, for now.” She sighed.
Tier inclined his head. Rale extended his hand. “Ride behind me. Save your feet.”
Xin snorted but stepped over. “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”
“We’ll go slow.” Rale assured her as she clumsily got up behind him. She gripped his belt, hoping her shaking wouldn’t be obvious.
“The next town, we’ll see about getting you a horse.” Rale craned his neck, looking at her over his shoulder.
Xin nodded, belatedly realizing he couldn’t see her. “All right.”
They followed the twisting road, farther than Xin had been. Passing between steep cliffs and down into a narrow, eerily silent valley. Trees with ruddy red trunks towered over them and mist clung to the ground. The men were tense and Xin watched Tier closely. Several times he looked off into the forest, brows pulled together, staring at something. Rale said nothing about it, Xin hesitated to ask. They reached a wide, shallow stream, and Tier pulled his horse to a halt.
“Let’s stop here, water the horses and eat.” He said, his voice low.
“It feels heavy here.” Rale said. His horse stopped, ears flickering back and forth. Xin slid off, and limped back from the horse. Her legs trembled.
She made her way towards the stream, picking her way around several boulders trying to walk out the odd feel to her legs. The water whispered to her, dancing along her mind. She crouched, glancing back at the men. They were looking at a parchment, talking in low voices. She sighed and dipped her fingers in the water.
It was cold, soothing. She closed her eyes listening. The road followed along side the stream for quite a distance, almost to the lake, she knew that from the map, and could feel it in her mind. She frowned. She heard, no she felt percussions rippling through the water. She straightened, staring upstream. The sound of horses moving through the water was carried on the current. She swallowed. Bandits.
“Bandits, upriver.” She called to the men. “Four maybe five. I think there might be more in the forest.”
Tier was on his feet, sword drawn before she finished. Rale drew his slender sword and they both moved toward the stream bank. Xin crept towards the large boulders beside the stream, the sounds of splashing reaching her. Around the bend, their armor ragged and mismatched, came bandits that appeared to have had far better days. Their horses appeared underfed and scraggly. Tier lowered his sword. They halted, exchanging startled looks, their horses sidestepping, ears flat on their heads.
“Your money and the woman and you may pass.” One of the men called.
“Or you’ll do what?” Tier scoffed. “Bat at us with those toy blades?”
The bandits hissed back and forth, and Xin stared at the water around the horses hooves.
“We’ll kill you.”
“You can try, won’t get very far.” Rale called. Xin shot him a startled look, he didn’t look the type. Tier chuckled and shook his head.
“You won’t succeed. Go back where you came from, you won’t get anything from us.”
“Noblemen from Nekar, all alone, in the middle of nowhere.” One of the men with finer clothing than the others leaned forward. “Put your toy swords away and hand over your money. We might even share the woman….Oww.”
Xin directed a large chunk of half frozen ice at the man, hitting him in the chest and knocking him off the A blob of ice shot from the water slamming into the man’s chest. He fell back and hit the iced over stream, his horse spooked, darting from the stream, circles of ice around his hooves. The other horses followed their fellow, dashing onto the shore, leaving their startled riders behind in the stream.
The panicked horses tangled with bandits trying to run out from the forest in an ambush. Xin turned her attention back to the bandits who had been dumped by their terrified mounts. She focused, freezing the surface of the water around them and muttered one of Matau’s favorite oaths. The man she’d hit with the ice got to his feet, just out of range of her ice. She stepped forward and focused on the water around his legs, freezing it as fast as she could. He yowled, struggling to yank his legs free.
Xin tossed a few ice balls at the other men trying to keep them from the fray onshore. The leader yowled in frustration. The others were working themselves loose. Xin couldn’t keep the water frozen. Her head was pounding and she could feel sweat beading on her face. She’d never used her ability like this, though she’d heard stories and tried small ice balls late at night when no one was looking.
With a yell the bandits broke and fled back into the forest. Xin sank to the ground shaking, her head heavy. The leader was dragging himself out of the water, his legs encased in ice chunks. He yelled something she didn’t catch and half ran, half limped into the safety of the forest.
Xin forced herself to her feet. They might be just out of sight, watching and regrouping. She made her way back over to the men. Several of the bodies lay on the ground, blood seeping around them. Xin gritted her teeth, her stomach doing a dangerous flop. Tier touched her shoulder.
Xin blinked and looked up at him, nodding mutely.
“We’ll get going here in a moment.” He grimaced, rubbing his thumb. It looked odd.
He shrugged. “I’ll live.”
“Dislocated your thumb again?” Rale shook his head. “The healers in Lorn could have fixed that.”
Tier scowled at him. “Let those crazies cut my hand open. No.”
“One of the horses got tangled in the underbrush.” Rale pointed.
“Payment for the inconvenience.” Tier looked at Xin. Looks like you have a horse now, my lady.”
Xin snorted, looking at the ragged beast. “Let’s hope it lives.”
“It,” Tier half bent, looking under the beast’s belly. “She, will probably live longer in our care than with those incompetent fools.”
Rale helped Xin get to know her new mount while Tier wrapped his hand, securing his thumb with a rarely used brace, swearing under his breath. The bandit’s sword hit his at just the right angle. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Once it was secure he gathered the weapons that looked usable and watched Rale going over some basic riding skills. The poor woman was pale.
“You think you can ride solo, or do you want to give it some time?” Tier asked.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you.” Her voice didn’t sound like she’d be fine at all but he wasn’t about to push her. His head was ringing from the power she’d been using. It troubled him. He shouldn’t be able to feel it, should he? She shook the thought off, it led to other, dangerous questions. Questions he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers to.
They rode on, going slow at first, then a bit faster as they neared the foothills of the mountains separating Dhaul from the desert province of Delebeg. They reached the bottom of the pass and found a small abandoned town. The thatch roofs had fallen into rickety shells of houses whose owners abandoned them. They found what might have once been an inn, and a stable yard able to secure the horses. They left early to reach the peak of the pass.
The passage up the pass was narrow and clogged with rocks and at the peak Rale and Xin both suggested they rest before going back down the other way. A stone hut provided them with shelter, and a view of the valley stretching out below.
Tier took the first shift, though they hadn’t seen any more bandits, they were out there, resentful and angry. He didn’t want to give them any chance to do anything. He’d settled against the outside wall when Xin approached him. She looked as if she were about to say something but instead she sighed, moving as though to go back inside.
“Something on your mind?” He asked. She half turned, looking up at him.
“How much further to Delebeg?”
He peered into the dark valley below. “Do you see those lights in the distance?”
She was quiet. He wished the moon was out so he could get a better glimpse of her face. Her hair was brushing his face, and arm and he was tempted catch it and braid it or something. He gripped his sword belt instead. It was safer.
“That’s Delebeg?” She sounded forlorn. Tier inwardly sighed. He wasn’t sure what to do, how he might help her feel better.
“It’s about four days, possibly five depending on how the horses do.”
“It’s dry down there. I can feel it.” she shuffled her feet.
“What’s it like?” He asked. He should send her back to bed, but he didn’t want her to leave just yet.
“What? Water using?”
“Yeah.” He hesitated. He almost mentioned being able to feel when she used her powers, but the words stuck in his throat. Now wasn’t the time.
“It’s an irresistible pull.” She said after a long silence. “It’s a whisper in the back of my mind that never quite goes away. If I’m not careful I could end up going under.” She shuddered.
“Getting lost in the call of the water. There were stories Matau told me about, stories of water users who were unable to resist the call of the water. They either disappeared or drowned.”
Tier wasn’t sure what to say.
“I think if there wasn’t such a harsh punishment for just being what we are, it wouldn’t have consumed them.” Her voice was almost inaudible.
“The law,” Tier began but she interrupted.
“What if the law is wrong?” She asked softly. “Have you ever considered that? Not all laws are right, just because they’re laws.” She touched his arm, a feather touch that sent shock waves through him. “It means that the people in power want it done that way.”
He considered that.
“Good night, Tier.” She went silently and he couldn’t think of anything to say to bring her back.
He stared out into the darkness considering what she had said, and what she hadn’t. He’d never worried about it, never even thought about it. The law was the law. But that law dictated that he should put her to death. The law determined she was not a person, just an evil being.
The Seeress had ordered him to seek out the elementals. Would she also order him to kill them? And if she did, could he really do it? He’d never questioned his orders. Never doubted that the Seeress knew what was right for Nekar, for their people.
And yet she gave him chills, nightmares, and there were times he could almost feel her near him. Her fingernail dragging slowly down his chest, her voice whispering in his head. It left an oily, grimy feel that he hadn’t been able to wash away. If she suspected he was doubting her, doubting the laws he’d enforced his entire adult life, his life wouldn’t be worth living. She’d make sure of it. The question Xin asked earlier hung in his mind, nagging at him. If he was ordered to, could he kill her? For the first time in his life, he didn’t know the answer. Confused, troubled he stayed long past when he was supposed to wake Rale. When he finally went inside he was no closer to an answer.
The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 15th.
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Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!
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(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix