Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 15

This entry is part 16 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

“If we go to Sandau we pass beyond Nekarian rule. With the trouble at the border, it’s not be a good idea.” Rale said tapping the map.

“Can you think of any other place we could go? Where else would there be elementals?” Tier asked.  “We can’t guarantee that the northern cities on the map still exist. How long has it been since there was contact with them?”

Rale shrugged and they both glanced towards Xin and Geb who still slept. “I didn’t know they were even up there.”

“You’re right, the Sandau Plain is going to be on high alert. If we can’t go that way.”

“Have you ever traveled outside of Nekar before?” Rale asked.

“A few times. Just outside the borders. The General Yorma situation.”

Rale nodded.

“The what?” Xin asked from where she lay.

“Yorma was a general from the Jaktor area. A few years ago I was ordered to locate his son in one of the villages far outside Nekar.” Tier shook his head. “I found out later that they used the boy as bait to bring his father to Nekar. When his father arrived, both were tortured, then executed. When word reached the city we were trying to take, they surrendered.”

Tier paced, trying to get his mind off of it. There was so much more than that though. The boy had been Geb’s age, perhaps a little bit younger. He’d trusted Tier. Tier did his job, turning the boy over, but when he discovered the child’s fate… He pushed it from his mind. He’d followed orders. But that thought brought him no consolation.

 

Xin stretched, stood, and glanced around the camp. Geb still lay on his side, watching the men. His brows pulled together in a frown. She took a deep breath and tensed. The back of her neck tingled and she felt an odd shift in the air. Xin scanned the rocky canyon walls, the longer she stood, the stronger it got. She felt a whisper in her mind, an insistent pull. She rolled her sleeping mat, securing it before stepping away from the campsite, putting distance between the movement of her traveling companions, trying to listen.

She closed her eyes. The whisper of water, silent since they left the river, danced along her nerves. Beckoning her, teasing her. Somewhere close there was water, a lot of water. She reached out, feeling for it.

She heard movement behind her and glanced over her shoulder, heart pounding. Tier was watching her with a deep frown.

“What are you doing?” Tier asked, his voice low.

She stared up at him, blinking several times, mind racing. He knew she was looking for water. “Taking a walk…”

“No, you’re doing something. I felt it. Did you find water?”

The whisper in her head grew to a roar as she nodded and turned towards a jumble of rocks,possibly an old rockfall piled up against the canyon wall. “How did you know?” She whispered. She could feel Rale and Geb watching them.

“I told you, I felt it.” He hesitated. “Whenever you or Geb use your magic, I feel it. Where is the water?”

Xin swallowed, her throat parched, and pointed at the old rock-slide. She hurried over to it without a backward glance, her heart still pounding. She needed to be near the water. She pressed her palms against the rocks and closed her eyes. Somewhere beyond the rubble was water. She backed up, taking in the old pile of rubble.

“You aren’t thinking of climbing that, are you?” Rale called.

She ignored him, placed her foot on one of the stones. A hand gripped her arm. She glanced up at Tier.

“Geb, see how sturdy these rocks are.” He pulled her toward him, not hurting her but not releasing her either. “Wouldn’t want you to break your neck, now would we?” he murmured. Once she was away from the rocks he released her.

Geb limped over, placing his hands on the rocks. “They’re not safe to climb.” He said. He inhaled and bowed his head.

Power rippled through the ground and the rocks shifted. They looked soft, like bread dough. They started to drip, them melt into the ground, separating separating like a curtain being pulled aside.

“There’s a passageway though.” Geb sat back, breathing hard. “It’s been hidden a long time.”

The passageway was lined with tiles of bright blue and green. Moisture wafted their way, and in the distance water trickled. She darted up the passage, ignoring Rale’s protest, stopping at the top.

She stood under an arch, lined with those same little tiles. Before her was a wide, round structure, built into the cliffs. Above it, a round hole allowed sunlight to pour in. At the far end of the chamber was a waterfall, trickling from a spout high up in the cliffs, pouring into a wide pool.

Xin felt her breath catch in her throat as she stepped towards it. Vines with little white flowers hugged the cliff face. The entire far wall was coated with a carpet of greenery filling the room with a light floral scent, broken only by the praying statue of a long forgotten goddess. Along the sides of the room were archways and passages, some closed off with rubble. There were arches higher up and Xin realized it was a three storied tall inner chamber of some ancient building.

The water called to her. She stood at the edge of the pool, staring down. On the bottom was a mosaic, but she couldn’t make it out. The call of the water was too loud. Xin held out her hand pulling the water towards herself in a large bubble. She let it move through the air, shaping it first into a whip then a halo, the sun sparkling through it cast rainbows around the room. Geb sent a rock whizzing through it stopping it just before it hit the surface of the pool.

Xin pulled a smaller bubble of water from the pool and ‘tossed’ it in his direction, smiling when she heard the resounding splash and shriek from the boy.

“That’s not fair Xin.” Geb sputtered. “I can’t throw a rock at you.”

She flashed a grin at the boy. Tier and Rale were tying off the horses, shooting furtive glances her way.

“Geb, could you seal off the entry to that passage?” Tier asked. “I think we’ll rest here another day, refill our water skins.”

Geb nodded, limping towards the entry. Xin looked back at the water only half hearing Rale speaking.

“Elementals are handy to have around, eh Tier?”

She needed to be in the water. Her skin, slightly burnt, and dried out from the desert sun begged for moisture. There was no thought. She dove into the water, blocking out conversation, feeling the water around her. The cool shock on her moisture deprived skin was almost painful. She let herself sink to the bottom, staring around the gently sloping pool. A grate against the far wall was clogged with algae and other things.

She felt suspended from everything, the journey, the odd relationship with Tier, her past a murky mix of Matau and half remembered warnings from her mother. She propelled herself to the surface, her mind blessedly blank.

It took all she could muster to break the surface of the water, the pull to stay under in the cushion of calm was strong. A hand gripped her arm, hauling her, coughing, from the water. She felt the rock beneath her feet, but could only stare at the pool, partially aware of a blanket being draped around her shoulders. She blinked looking up at Tier confused. He was frowning at her.

“What?”

“You were under there for a very long time.” Rale said on her other side. His voice sounded strange. Tier nodded, dark eyes intense.

“Make a note, no more deserts for water elementals.” he said gruffly.

“Good idea.” Rale replied.

Xin shuddered despite the hot air, a chill moving through her numb limbs. Don’t go under. The half remembered voice in the back of her mind warned. She allowed Tier to steer her to an archway with one of the blankets hanging over it. On the other side was a small room. Her sleeping mat had been laid out on top of a raised platform with her travel bag leaning against wall beside it. She shivered, so tired. She could barely keep her eyes opened.

“You need to get out of these wet things.” Tier said gently rubbing the blanket on her shoulders, and down her back. Xin turned, looking up at him. He was a touch grimmer looking than usual.

“I couldn’t control it.” She whispered. Tier nodded, he pushed a dripping strand of hair from her face, wiping the water from her cheeks. Tender. Very tender. “I’ve never, not been able to control it.”

“Do you think it will happen again?” His expression had softened with her admission.

Xin looked down considering it. But he was very close, too close. The kind touch, was sending her senses reeling. It was a small room, a barest blanket separating the outside from the inside, and Tier was a big man who filled the room with his presence. It made it hard to think. She took a deep breath, focusing on the water. The pulling was faint, a mere light tug instead of the suffocating drag.

“I don’t think so.” She met his intense gaze and he nodded and dropped his hands.

“Get some rest.”

He was gone so quickly she felt bereft. Xin stared at the slightly stirring blanket slowly sinking to her sleeping mat. Crazy, it was crazy. She wanted him to come back. She wanted him. She trembled. He held her life in his hands.

 

Tier stared down at the mosaic at the bottom of the pool, trying to clear his head. She’d looked far too vulnerable. He shook himself. Bad. Very bad. She was a water elemental, an enemy of Nekar. A charge, to be taken to the Seeress. He couldn’t get involved.

He crouched, peering into the clear water. The mosaic caught his eye. A man and a woman, standing on a field of green, floating in the sky. Hyrfett perhaps?

“Is she going to be alright?” Rale asked, breaking his thoughts.

“Yeah. She’s just shook up a bit.” Tier looked up towards the small center of the skylight overhead.

“Tier.”

“Hmmm?”

“What are we going to do?”

Tier couldn’t answer. He wasn’t even sure.

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Sept 18th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial!

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 16

This entry is part 17 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

“There are chains on top of this building.” Tier stared up through the opening in the ceiling of the ancient building. Pale clouds skittered across a pale blue sky and marring it were huge metal links. He couldn’t see what they were connected to, the ceiling blocked his view.

“They’re huge.” Rale whispered. Tier nodded.

“What at they doing there?” Geb asked.

“Why didn’t we see them at the crossroads?” Tier mused aloud. He saw Rale shrug in the corner of his eye. “How would we get up there to get a better look?”

“Why would you want a closer look?” Rale asked incredulous. He gestured up towards the ceiling. “Can you fly?”

Tier snorted and glanced over at Geb. The young man was poking at the vines covering the far wall. “I want to see what they are.” He gave a half grin. “I’m curious.”

“There’s an old stairway behind these vines.” Geb called. He moved some of the vines revealing an archway and a dark, shadowed passage.

Tier glanced towards the blanket covering Xin’s small ‘room’. She hadn’t stirred since the day before. He considered checking on her, but decided against it. Letting her rest seemed a better idea. He turned his attention back to the gaping hole and Geb’s stairs. They were set deep in the rock, and he felt the skin on the back of his neck tingle the closer he got to them. Tier looked down at Geb.

“How safe are these?”

Geb placed his hand on the bottom step and closed his eyes, Tier felt a solid ‘pulse’ of the boy’s powers. “They’re solid.” Geb opened his eyes, grinning. “A shaper made them a long time ago.”

Tier nodded, and cautiously placed his foot on the first step.

“Those are far too steep for me. They look more like a ladder. You fall and you’ll break your neck.” Rale grumped. “I’ll wait down here.”

Tier nodded and carefully ascended the steps, Geb at his heels. The stairs curved to his right, ascending towards the top of the cliff. Around the first bend it was nearly pitch black. He felt his way up the steps around the next bend and realized he could see. Dim, though with each step it got brighter. Then he was stepping out onto a flat area. He stared, trying to grasp what he was seeing. A plateau. Not the roof of a building.

On either side of the doorway stretched huge chains, tethering a wide slab of floating rock to the plateau. Tier resisted the urge to rub his eyes. How did the ancients do it? He shook his head. Sky City Hyrfett.

“Look at how high it goes.” Geb whispered.

“Stay by the stairs. Just to be safe.” Tier instructed.

“How did they do it?” Geb asked.

Tier shrugged, touching the chain. The metal that made up the links, were as big around as his arms. The links were as tall as he was. Slung between them on some sort of cable were steps. He swallowed, glancing down at the skyhole and swore. The steps to the top of the building he could handle. This?

“Are you going to climb them?” Geb peered with wide eyes.

“Hell no.” He motioned the stairs. “Go back down, I’ll be right behind you.”

Geb nodded, carefully making his way back down the stairs.

Tier was about to follow when he felt the flutter use of power. He halted, turning slowly, scanning the horizon, looking for the source of the power. It came again, brushing against his mind. In the distance he saw a smudge of dark gray clouds. Smoke? He looked up at the slab of rock that floated in the air. If he were on that thing, he’d get a better view of the smoke. He felt the fluttering power again and gritted his teeth. He had to find out where it was coming from. He tested the bottom step. The step itself wiggled a bit, but the chains didn’t budge. He stared up at the floating rock.

“I’m insane.” He murmured. The power fluttered again against his mind. He took a deep breath. Step by precarious step, he ascended the sky stairs to reach what he hoped was a sort of stable ground. He snorted. Stable? Floating in the air? This trip was making him crazy. He reached the slab of rock and placed his foot on the dark reddish brown rock. It didn’t budge, didn’t move. He peered around. What looked like rock underneath was covered in tall grasses on top. He stepped toward the middle of it. A breeze rippled the grasses, bending them wave-like.

He stared around, slow, his mind refusing to accept what his eyes saw. In the distance, dotting the air above the canyons, were other floating rocks, also held by the immense chains anchoring them to the ground.

“How was this made?” Xin’s voice broke his thoughts. He turned, in time to see her step onto the rock, her eyes wide as she peered around. He motioned her over.

“I can’t tell exactly where the edge of the rock is.” He said quickly. The last thing he wanted was for a fall. “Thought you were sleeping.” He said as she stopped beside him. She looked up at him and grinned.

“I woke up to Rale swearing at you. He said you lost your mind.” Xin turned slowly. “This is unbelievable. What do you think they were put here for?”

“Fields of grain, perhaps. For the floating city.” Tier frowned. The fluttering against his mind was back. He looked north, peering at the gray cloud. “What does that look like to you?”

“Smoke.” Xin said, touching his arm. “Though I’ve never seen smoke acting like that.”

“I felt,” he hesitated. “Power use.”

“Fire elemental perhaps?” Xin gasped. “Did you see that?”

Tier nodded. The smoke had cleared, just for a brief moment, and he saw a city against a low mountain. He took half a step, trying to see through the clouds swirling back over the city. Xin gripped his arm.

“That is a really long drop.” She said when he glanced down at her in surprise. She looked a bit flustered, releasing his arm and crossing hers.

“I’ll be careful.” He looked back towards the cloud. “If that was smoke, the city could be on fire.”

“Do you think a fire elemental might have done it?” Xin asked. A strong breeze kicked up. She leaned closer, staring towards the smoke. “How would we get over there?”

Tier looked down towards the canyons. “That looks like it might be a road right to the city.” He pointed at a canyon that curved toward it. “We could make for that city, see if we can find who was using power.”

“And hope they’re friendly?”

Tier snorted and glanced at her. “You were.”

“Geb wasn’t.” She pointed out.

“He was protecting himself.” Tier touched her arm and pointed to the distant tree. “Is that what I think it is?”

“A tree?” She grinned. “This is amazing. It’s so peaceful.”

“It is.” Tier stepped around her, moving closer to the chains. “It’s very high up though.”

Xin laughed. “Are you going to have a problem getting down?”

“Of course not!” He motioned her ahead of him. “Lets go tell them what we saw. We’ll head out in the morning.”

“You’re insane.” Rale scowled.

“I survived.” Tier pulled out the map, staring down at it. “This is the crossroads.” He frowned.

“That city isn’t on the map.” Xin said.

“We’ll work our way north.” Tier glanced at Geb. “Any idea what that city is.”

The boy shrugged. “I’m just an ignorant tribesman.”

Xin lightly swatted his shoulder. “Geb, you are a font of lore we’ve never heard. I wouldn’t call that ignorant.”

Tier was in the process of tucking the map back into his travel packs when Rale touched his shoulder, jerking his head to one side.

Tier followed, frowning.

“Is this a wise move, cousin? I’ve never heard of much exploration in this area.”

“Is any of this wise?” Tier crossed his arms and glanced back at Xin.

“We turn her and Geb over to the Seeress, and she’s going to kill them both.” Rale hissed.

Tier looked at him. “We don’t know that for sure.”

“Tier, I’ve seen the looks between the two of you,”

“Rale,” Tier began.

“I’d have to be blind to not see it. Are you willing to risk her life on the chance that the Seeress won’t kill them?” Rale shook his head.

“What’s your interest?” Tier crossed his arms.

Rale looked toward Xin and Geb, and then back at Tier. “All my life I’ve been taught elementals are monsters. But those two are anything but monstrous. And I’m certain they’re not the only elementals left, not like we’ve been led to believe. The Seeress did gave us an out.”

Tier frowned. “Rale, if we tried anything, aside from what she’s expressly ordered, she’ll know. She’ll read our minds.”

“And she’d kill us.” Rale’s shoulders sagged. “What do we do?”

“For now? We go north.” Tier looked back at Xin. “From there,” he shrugged. “We’ll see.”

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Oct th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 17

This entry is part 18 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

Two towering statues guarded the entrance to the canyon. Their features were worn from time and weather, leaving their gender impossible to guess. At their feet, peeking from beneath the sand and rock, were cobblestones. Tier gazed into the canyon, the cobblestones lined the canyon floor. He glanced up, looking for the floating rocks he’d seen when on the roof of the ancient building. Nothing but blue sky with white clouds skittering by.

“It’s a road.” Xin said, bringing his thoughts back to the canyon.

“It looks like no one has been down this way in years.” Tier leaned forward in the saddle peering at the narrowing canyon. “We might have to dismount and lead the horses if it gets too narrow.”

“I don’t like the look of it.” Rale said. “It looks, evil.” From the canyon, on the wind, came a low howl sound. Tier glanced at Rale. Blood drained from his face and he slowly shook his head. “No.”

“Come on Rale, it’s not as bad as the Dhaul Fortress.” Xin said lightly.

“I’m not going through that.” Rale pointed. “Did you hear that? No. Absolutely not.”

“Don’t worry Rale, I’ll protect you.” Geb grinned at him. He pointed at the ground at the statue’s feet. “It just a road. We stay on the cobblestones, we’ll be fine. It’s straying off the path that will get us into trouble.”

Rale gave him a dirty look.

“One word Rale,” Tier said. “Seeress.”

“Shit.” Rale rubbed his face with his hand. “Fine, after you.”

Tier snorted and urged his horse between the two statues, into the canyon. The only other place they could go was south, back to Nekar and the Seeress, and he wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Not yet. He’d found two Elementals, and felt another one using power somewhere beyond this canyon.

Aside from the wind and their own passing, there was no sound. Though the canyon did narrow, they stayed mounted, and as the shadows lengthened Tier called a halt. Up ahead, in the distance, tucked beneath an overhang was what appeared to be some sort of cottage. He and Rale exchanged dubious glances and they carefully made their way toward it.

“It’s been empty a long time.” Xin dismounted and glanced at the men. “I say we stop here for the night. I don’t think we’ll make it to the city before nightfall.”

Rale groaned. “I’d go through the night. I want out of this,” the wind picked up, a long whistling howl that made the hairs on the back of Tier’s neck stand up. “Canyon.”

“I’m with Xin.” Geb slid off of Rale’s horse. “I’m tired and I’m not going through that at night.”

They all looked at Tier. He stared past them. The canyon curved in the distance. He frowned.

“Tier.” Xin’s voice dragged him out of his thoughts. He exhaled slowly.

“We’ll stay the night. Rale see if there’s a place to tie up the horses.”

Rale dismounted and stomped off, leading his horse to the other side of the building, grumbling under his breath.

The cottage was filled with nearly a foot of sand. There was nothing resembling furniture, though it probably rotted away long ago. Tier started a fire in a place that looked like it might have been a fire pit. Xin knelt beside him.

“If that was smoke we saw, wouldn’t we be smelling it by now?” She asked in a low voice. Tier looked at her and nodded. “So if it wasn’t smoke, what was it?”

Tier frowned, looking down at the dark ruddy sand. He scooped up a handful and let it fall between his fingers. “Dust storm maybe?”

“And,”

“Maybe air elemental?” He barely whispered, though Rale and Geb were in an animated discussion about something. Xin looked at the fire.

“So now what?”

“We keep going. Check out the city, though I’m guessing it’s empty.”

“If there was an air elemental, it must not be that empty.” Xin stood glancing at Geb and Rale.

Tier said nothing, looking back at the fire. Air or fire, the problem would be convincing whatever it was to join them.

 

 

“That’s a hell of a city.” Rale whispered. The canyon opened up to a valley divided by huge walls and beyond the walls, built upwards into the cliffs, were structures, though Tier couldn’t tell if they were homes or something else entirely.

“It reminds me of a bee hive.” Xin pointed. “The wall is breached over there.”

“Nekarians?” Geb asked. They all looked at Tier. He shrugged and turned his horse towards the breach.

Sand was piled along the bottom of the walls in huge drifts, some taller than he was. The walls themselves were made of huge oddly shaped blocks of stone. Unlike the walls he’d seen in Jacktor and Nekar, these were thicker, octagonal and fitted puzzle-like, resembling a honeycomb.

He dismounted, leading the horse towards the large tumbled stones, half covered in sand. Old scorch marks on the stones and the walls themselves hinted at a deadly battle.

“I wonder who they were.” Xin murmured.

“And who attacked.” Geb pointed. “There’s burn marks up there.”

“I wonder who won.” Tier looked up at the structures on the cliff-side. “Unbelievable.”

“Tier, is that, smoke?” Rale asked.

Tier looked in the direction Rale pointed and swore. “No.”

“Sandstorm!” Geb darted through the breach. “There’s a building here, big enough for the horses.”

They scrambled inside as howling wind carrying a wall of sand advanced. It was cramped and stuffy and when the wind and sand reached them, it filled with choking air and dust. They huddled, for how long Tier wasn’t sure. When it finally passed, the shadows had lengthened and the air had an odd, ruddy color to it.

“That’s what we saw.” Tier rubbed his forehead. He was about to suggest heading back towards the canyon when he felt it again, a flutter of power against his mind. This time it was further away. He leaned back against the wall trying not to swear aloud.

 

“It’s no wonder it was abandoned.” Rale said. They’d stayed the night in the long, low building and were exploring, cautiously, the ruins between the wall and the buildings. “No food, no water,”

“There is water.” Xin corrected him. “I feel it, in this direction.” She motioned towards two tall circular buildings.

“Aside from that, I don’t know how a place this big would support any kind of,” Rale hesitated, looking up in the sky. “Population.”

“Floating rocks maybe?” Tier suggested.

“Shouldn’t we see them? From here?” Xin asked.

“One would think.” Rale snorted. “Hey Geb, no wandering off!”

Tier followed Xin towards the round buildings, looking for any wisps or ghosts of the city’s former occupants. Nothing. He glanced back towards the city wall. There must have been a vicious battle. The death toll must have been staggering.

“Tier, look at what Geb found.” Rale’s voice had an odd hollow tone to it. Tier sighed. Rale and Geb hurried over to him, Geb held a strange cloth covered something in his trembling hands. Rale’s face was pale. “This fabric,” He handed the package to Tier. “It looks familiar.”

It was heavy, square and the gray fabric was wrapped several times around it. He carefully unwrapped it, pausing when he reached a hem complete with a knotted tassel. The tassel reminded him of the priest robes at the Oracle.

“Priest robe, perhaps?”

“Why would a priest of Nekar come out this way to hide something?” Geb asked.

Tier looked at Rale who shrugged, and continued unwrapping. When he reached the item it was wrapping, his breath caught. The cloth fluttered to the ground, unnoticed.

“A book?” Geb asked.

“Not just a book.” Rale’s voice sounded strangled. Tier couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dark brown leather cover. Set in the center, in gold filigree, was a large eye; curling up on one end, down on the other and sliced across by three slash marks. The symbol had dominated his childhood, was embroidered on every Nekarian flag that flew.

“I don’t believe it.” Tier swallowed and crouched. He felt a bit light headed as he carefully opened the book.

“I’ll be damned.” Rale whispered. “What is this doing out here?”

Tier shook his head, carefully turning the gold edged pages.

“Ok, we’re in the dark over here.” Xin knelt beside him, touching his arm. “What is it?”

“It’s a national treasure.” Rale answered before Tier could form words. “The genealogy of the Imperial household.”

“It was stolen before I was born, I’ve only heard tales of it.” Tier murmured.

Rale took the book and glanced at Tier. He flipped back to the first two pages, running his finger over the precise script. “The first Emperor, and his wife. The further you go, the closer to now the book gets. It lists every major union to the Imperial House, every child born, every death.” He flipped back to the last page with writing. “Looks like it stops right after your parents got married.” He looked at Tier.

“That fits.” Tier took the book back, leafing through the pages casually. “Father went to enter Maen’s birth in it and discovered it was missing.” He frowned as he turned the pages. Every now and then he caught sight if the Seeress’s symbol besides names. He returned to the first page, then slowly flipped towards his parents’ entry. Every Empress had symbols of their households drawn beside the name. But every four or five generations was her symbol. He closed the book and glanced down at the cloth mind racing.

“It’s been around since the beginning of the Empire?” Geb asked incredulously.

“For a book over a thousand years old, it’s in very good shape.” Xin said.

“They say the Seeress used her powers to keep it as though it was new.” Tier said.

“Or it gets replaced every few generations, to make it look like it is preserved.” Xin crossed her arms. “I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“This is a priest robe then.” Rale lifted it up. “Who would have done this?”

“I don’t know.” Tier hesitated.

A loud rattling and clacking sound bounced off the city walls and the cliffs, a shadow fell over them, swaying back and forth. Tier stood, aware the horses bolting back towards the round buildings. The caster of the shadow towered above them, it’s head larger than the horses and framed by a large red frill. The sharp snout opened revealing huge, thin sharp teeth. It hissed and Tier stepped back slowly, hand on the hilt of his sword.

“What is that?” Rale choked out.

The frills shook, accompanied by another long rattling sound. The tongue snaked out, forked at the end.

“That’s a sand dragon.” Geb whispered.

“A what?” Rale drew his own sword, standing beside Tier.

“A sand dragon. They’re supposed to be myth!” Geb grabbed Tier’s arm. “We have to get out of here, I think it might be hungry!”

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Oct 16th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 18

This entry is part 19 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

The horses bolted towards the round structures as the sand dragon coiled, snake-like, between them and the breach in the wall. Xin inched backward, feeling the wall of one of the buildings behind her. The dragon was moving forward, head swaying beck and forth. From its snout were long, thin rope-like whiskers that swayed hypnotically. Its eyes narrowed, lips curled back, revealing long sharp fangs.

“Xin, do you feel the water anywhere?” Geb asked, his voice low. She tore her eyes from the advancing beast and felt for it. She frowned, half turning and looking up at the building behind her. She pressed her hands against it and looked down at Geb.

“It’s here.”

The dragon gave a wheezing warble darting forward. Xin looked towards them in time to see Rale dive out of the way and Tier swinging his sword, lopping off one of the whiskers. The creature yowled, jerking back from the two men. The whisker flopped on the ground, reminding Xin of a fish out of water. Tier and Rale both backed up, towards Xin.

Geb tapped her hand and she looked at the boy and back up at the water cistern. She met Geb’s eyes and nodded, pressing her hand against the wall of the building. Geb made a motion with his hands, drawing the stone apart like a curtain, and Xin held the water, keeping it from pouring out. The dragon wasn’t close enough.

Tier reached them, sword still pointed at the dragon. “I don’t think we’ll be able to kill it.”

“Just get it distracted so we can slip away.” Rale said.

“Do you think it’ll follow us?” Geb asked.

Xin focused on the water, waiting as the dragon moved closer, still swaying back and forth, blood dripping from its whisker stump. Xin narrowed her eyes, watching the beast loom closer.

“There is a passage back behind the water tower.” Geb was saying.

“The horses?”

“They ducked down it.”

The dragon struck, mouth open, and Xin pushed the water out in a powerful stream, catching it in the mouth and knocking it backwards against the rock wall. They heard the loud crack as its head hit the huge stones and it fell, twitching in the mud as the water stream lessened.

Tier crept closer. “It’s still breathing.” He looked at Xin. “Just knocked out.”

“Uhm, Tier.” Rale pointed. “It wasn’t alone.”

Xin stared, trying to wrap her mind around it. From the breach slithered three more sand dragons, half the size of the one they’d knocked out.

“Oh this is not good.” Tier backed up rapidly. “Get down that passage back there. Geb! Are you sure the horses went down there?”

“Yes!” Geb grabbed Xin’s arm. “Come on!”

Xin blinked, the daze broken. She nodded and followed the rock shaper around more tumbled rocks and through a tall, narrow opening in the cliff wall. The crack ran all the way up the cliffs, letting sunlight trickle through, though it was dim. She turned just inside as Tier and Rale darted through, the beasts snarling and snapping behind them.

“Geb!” Rale yelled.

The boy was already in action, his hands on the rock, pulling it closed. The Sand dragons roared on the other side, their claws scrabbling at the rock that had been shaped between them and their prey.

Xin leaned back, trying to catch her breath.

“The horses are back here, packs intact.” Rale called. Geb disappeared around the corner and Xin looked up at Tier.

“Tier?”

“I think that was a mother, trying to feed her babies.” He said, his tone odd. Xin gripped his arm. He didn’t look injured, but she was worried by the look on his face. He looked down, glancing back the way Rale and Geb had gone before looking back at her, sliding his arm around her waist pulling her closer. “You all right?”

She nodded, leaning against him, she felt safer than she had in a long time, even with the sand dragons snarling at them on the other side of the rock. “I’m just shook up. You?”

“About the same.” He looked towards the rock and shook his head before meeting her gaze again. “I shouldn’t be, the way this journey has been going I should be used to the impossible.” He lifted his hand, hesitated and pushed a strand of hair from her face. Her skin tingled where his fingers brushed her cheek. She swallowed. He was an imperial prince! She was a nothing. But the way he was looking at her, she wondered if he was going to kiss her. She halfway hoped he would. She nodded, trying to focus on what they were saying not what she felt.

“It’s been pretty unbelievable.” She said, her heart pounded in her ears. They were very close, and the way he was looking at her warmed her to her core. He leaned forward, hesitated, brushed her lips with his, his arm tightening around her as she opened her mouth, and leaned into the kiss. His taste swirled around ehr, spicy, addictive. Hers. They parted slowly, Tier searching her face. Xin smiled hesitantly as he brushed her cheek with his fingertips.

“We’d better join them before they come looking for us.” He said hoarsely. She nodded, leaned forward and kissed him again. She wanted to find a little place to just curl up with him, to forget the mission, forget the trip, and just be.

“Thank you.” She said softly. She stepped away as footfalls approached. He chuckled.

“My pleasure.”

Rale and Geb came around the corner looking excited. Rale halted, excitement fading as he looked back and forth between them. An eyebrow arched and he cleared his throat.

“The passage goes further on, though it’s going to take some doing to get the horses through it.” Rale peered at Tier. “Everything okay?”

The sand dragons on the other side of the rock roared, shaking sand from above.

“Just fine.” Xin smiled at Rale and moved past the lord and the baffled looking rock shaper into the wider passage beyond. She felt Tier watching her, and forced her breathing to calm down. Her heart was still pounding in her ears, and she could still taste him, almost feel his arms around her.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Oct 23rd.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 19

This entry is part 20 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

 
Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

 

It was less a tunnel than a very narrow gorge that wound its way through a very tall plateau. Far above, light tricked between the cracks, lighting up their path. The horses didn’t like it. Tier and Rale resorted to carefully securing spare tunics over their heads and leading them. Geb smoothed the passage, and in places widened the way. They spoke little, and when they did their voices echoed.

They reached a wide cavern shortly before night fell, and found themselves standing at the base of a huge carved structure. Statues, similar to the ones in the canyon, lined the walls of the cavern. A tall opening was guarded by two carvings of sand dragons, somewhere in the distance the wind whistled through the gorge, echoing through the cavern and sending chills up Xin’s spine. She couldn’t take her eyes off the gaping doorway and jumped when a hand touched her shoulder.

Tier’s eyebrow arched and he motioned behind him. “Lets try to make camp, don’t worry about that doorway.”

She nodded and watched him make his way back over to the horses.

Dinner was a muted, quiet affair and they turned in shortly after. When she woke the next morning, the doorway to the structure was sealed by rock.

“Geb, did you do that?” Tier asked in a low voice.

“No.” Geb looked at him, eyes wide. “I didn’t feel anything.”

Tier nodded.

“Lets get going, this place is creepy.” Rale said, his voice hoarse.

 

They made their way through a narrower tunnel that stopped abruptly. Geb placed his hand on it, head bowed.

“These tunnels feel like they were closed off a long time ago.” He looked up and pointing towards the sliver of sky overhead. “Someone closed it. I think some further ahead collapsed over time.” He looked up at Tier. “I think whoever came through here was in a hurry.”

“I wonder what they were running from.” Xin murmured.

“Sand dragons?” Rale suggested.

“Nekarians?” Tier shrugged.

“No.” Geb looked back and forth. “I think these tunnels are older than Nekar.”

Xin’s heart pounded in her ears. “How can you tell?”

Geb opened his mouth and then closed it and shrugged. “I can’t explain.”

“Any clue as to how long this goes?” Tier asked.

Geb shrugged. “Half a day, maybe? I can’t tell. The tunnels ahead feel very strange.”

“Can you open them up?” Tier placed a hand on the stone, frowning. Xin wanted to ask him what, if anything, he felt, but she bit her lip. Rale was watching them both closely.

“I can. But it might take some time.” Geb sat and put both hands on the floor beside him. “They were masters who passed through here.”

The rock slowly melted apart, like wax near a flame. Darkness beckoned. Rale lit the torches without a word and handed one to Xin.

 

They went slowly through the tunnel, Geb paused periodically to reopen closed off passages or clear debris. Tier watched the youth closely. Though he looked frail and on the verge of starvation, his abilities were astounding, but he was still a boy. Barely a child who had gone through a difficult time. Tier feared the boy would push himself too far.

“There’s nothing beyond this wall.” Geb said, pressing a hand against the rock. “We’re almost out.”

“Let’s hope there are no sand dragons on the other side.” Rale said.

Tier touched the boy’s shoulder. “It’s probably daylight. It’ll be blinding.”

Geb nodded and bowed his head. The rock melted aside slowly, a pin point of light appeared, pouring into the tunnel. Tier squinted, his eyes tearing in the light. He stepped out of the tunnel once the opening was large enough, leading the horses. Sand met tough grass, stretching before him as far as the eye could see was green. Prairie.

“Shit.” Rale’s voice was low. “It’s Sandau, isn’t it?”

Tier hesitated and nodded. “Yep.”

Rale swore again.

“So which way?” Xin asked.

Tier glanced at her, gut twisting, and looked back over the grasses gently waving in a breeze he couldn’t feel. East was Sandau, west, the desert and the sand dragons. He motioned towards the distant line of green.

“We’ll make for the trees and see if we can’t find see a village or something.”

 

The light grew dim as they reached the forest. Distances were deceiving and Tier was tired. They all were, though no one said anything. Not even Rale. They took little time setting up a camp and getting things started for food. Geb was staring, face unreadable, all around them as they worked.

“Something wrong?” Tier asked after Rale and Xin left to go get some firewood.

“It’s all very green. Isn’t it?” The boy looked up at him, his eyes far older than his body.

“They say the further north you go, the colder it gets. There are some places that never thaw.”

“Thaw?” Geb frowned, peering towards the trees. “As in ice?”

“And snow.” Tier grinned at the boy’s awed face.

“The only snow I ever saw was on Lord Farook’s head!” Rale said, halting in front of them, arms full of sticks. His clothes were muddy and showing some travel wear. A far cry from the arrogant lord back in Dhaul. “I thought I saw some twinkling lights in the distance. Could be a town. Towns have inns and supplies.”

“See any sign of troops?” Tier asked.

“Troops?” Xin frowned at him.

“Lord Chiron was going to try to take the fort. I’d expect there to be troop movements from Sandau.”

 

It was barely day when they broke camp, making for a distant road Rale had spotted. They pushed through the grass sending birds flying. The road was a wide swath of dirt running north to south. It was pleasant, though a quiet journey. They reached a crossroads that with a weather worn signpost stuck in the middle. Xin frowned, the language one she’d never seen before. Tier swore, leaned forward and glanced at Rale.

“We’re in Sandau all right.”

Rale pulled his horse to a halt. “This is bad.”

“Rale,”

“What if the gods smiled on Chiron while we were in the canyons and he took the fort? That would put us at war with Sandau.”

“We can’t get back to Delebeg from here without going back through the canyons. If we get near the fort, we’d be on the wrong side of the mountains.” Tier leaned forward, staring towards the distant river. “We could try to skirt along the mountains to reach Jaktor.”

Rale nodded and looked at Xin. Her stomach flopped, his frown deepened before he looked back at Tier and shrugged. “We need an inn, I need a bed, a meal at a table and a bath. I’m not the only one.”

Tier nodded, though he didn’t look like he cared much for the idea. “According to that,” he pointed at the signpost. “There’s a town up this road. We’ll make for it. We have to keep our heads down.”

 

They rode on in silence, south on the road, once moving off to one side as a patrol on fast trotting horses passed. Their uniforms were red and black, orange flames embroidered on the backs of their black tunics. Xin frowned. Flames. Fire elementals? She glanced at Tier but he was just watching them as they disappeared in the distance.

The road angled east, and in the distance Xin could see a village and far beyond it, near the river, a collection of buildings.

“That would be Sandau.” Tier said in a low voice, he half turned and pointed towards the distant cliffs behind them. “The other side of those cliffs is Delebeg.”

“There’s smoke.” Geb said.

“The fort?” Xin asked.

Tier shrugged.

They reached the village as the sun was sinking in the west, casting brilliant oranges and pinks over the sky. There was a large building, an inn, a local told them, which served as a meeting hall and tavern. The proprietor met them in the stable yard. She was a slim, unsmiling woman who eyed them all with suspicion.

“The stables are around back.” She said, her voice very low. “I’ve only got one room to spare. Bathing hall is on the first floor.” She rattled off a price that made Xin wince. Tier nodded.

“Food?”

“I can have the servants bring it up for you.” She narrowed her eyes, looking back and forth between Tier and Rale. “You’re Nekarian.”

“On a personal vacation.” Rale said. “I’ve never been outside Nekar! So I thought I’d take a look see. My father thinks I’m a fool for it, but it’s a grand world, wouldn’t you say?”

The woman snorted. “If you say so.”

Rale turned to Geb. “Boy, take the horses to the stable!”

Geb glared and glanced at Xin before taking the reins and going in the direction the woman had pointed out.

“The room is up the stairs and all the way to the end of the hall.” The woman told Rale. Rale nodded, glanced at Tier.

“Pay the good woman, would you?” and flounced up the stairs.

“Insufferable.” The woman commented as Tier handed her the money.

“You have no idea.” He said, motioning Xin to go ahead of him. As they reached the top of the stairs Tier sighed. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“He’s going to get himself killed if he doesn’t watch it.” Xin leaned against the wall, looking up at him. “Do you think it’ll cause us trouble?”

“I don’t know. I’m not familiar with Sandau people. I keep telling him to tone it down. I don’t think he quite gets it.” Tier jerked his head towards the room. “Come on, lets make sure he’s not dirtying up the place.” He draped an arm over her shoulders. Xin smiled and leaned against him. She didn’t want to think about what would happen when they reached Nekar.

He dropped his arm and pushed the door open and chuckled. Rale had fallen face down on the nearest bed, legs and arms out like a puppet.

“MMmmmffmm.” Rale’s voice was muffled.

“What?” Tier crossed his arms and moved to one side as Geb entered the room, his eyes wide as he looked around.

Rale turned his head. “I said, I think I have reached paradise!”

“You’re getting the bedding dirty, Rale.” Xin pointed out. She went to her pack and glanced at the men. “I don’t know about you, I’m going to take a bath. And get clean before I throw myself on the bed!”

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues Dec 9th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 20

This entry is part 21 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

 

The walls of Sandau were under construction. Xin stared in silent awe at the complex scaffolding. The wide road leading to the main gates was filled with wagons and other traffic on foot. On the other side of the road, she saw the wide river. On either bank and in the center of the river were stone towers and, she guessed, watchers keeping an eye on the river traffic. River barges were moving up and down the river taking their wares north to Tyrsleth or south towards the southern cities of Jaktor and Begara. Xin shook her head. It was far bigger a city than she’d thought.

“Looks like they’re bringing in the harvest.” Rale said in an odd tone. Xin studied him. The lord appeared a bit pale, almost ill.

“With all the people, we should be able to get in and out easily.” Tier said. He sounded doubtful.

“Where exactly are we going?” Xin asked. “We’re here, at Sandau. Now what?” She looked back and forth between them and swallowed. “You didn’t plan for this, did you?”

Tier looked thoughtful. “We find a inn, and see if we can locate either an air elemental or a fire elemental.” He met her eyes. “We’ll go from there.”

“We have to keep our heads down.” Geb said.

Tier shot Rale a dark look. “Yes. We must. Which means you keep quiet.” There was a hint of power to his voice that sent shivers up Xin’s spine. Rale swallowed and nodded.

 

They dismounted and joined the crowd moving into the city. Xin cringed as the guards watched her go by, but they made no move to stop them. Tier made a couple inquiries about lodging and they were directed to a small inn, near the river. Xin’s stomach churned. Several people halted, staring as they passed.

“Tier,” Xin touched his arm. He nodded but didn’t look at her.

“I see. Stay close to Geb.”

The inn was a small building in need of repair. A sign directed them around the back of the building to the stable yard and barn. And standing in the stableyard were several grim looking guards. Patrons of the inn were watching from the windows and doorways.

A tall, darkly tanned man in rich red clothing stepped from behind the guards, studying them with a grim expression. Xin swallowed when she met his eyes. One of his eyebrows raised, though his gaze passed her.

“Prince Tier, if you and your, companions will accompany us.” his stared at Xin before looking back at Tier.

“Have we done something wrong?” Tier asked. There was an edge to his voice. The crowd watching started whispering. Xin touched his arm. Whatever power he might be hiding, didn’t need to be displayed. Not now. The man’s eyes narrowed and the guards closed in around them.

“Your reputation precedes you, your highness. The fall of Jaktor is unforgivable. This way.” He turned moving rapidly up the wide street.

Xin’s heart pounded in her ears. Tier’s expression was blank as he followed the man. She nibbled her lower lip and glanced down at Geb. “Come on.”

“Are we in trouble?” Geb whispered, his hands shook.

Xin shook her head. “We aren’t.” She looked at Rale and Tier. “They might be.”

“Come on my lady, Lord Nesh doesn’t like waiting.” One of the guards said behind her. She turned to look at him. He was younger than she, barely into manhood. He flinched. “Please, my lady.” He motioned the way the others were going and she nodded.

 

They were led to a large square building with pillars lining the outside supporting a balcony. Above the entry were two seals side by side. One looked like a torch, the other was an odd collection of symbols Tier felt he should have known, but he couldn’t place. The man in red went up the wide marble steps and into the building without a glance behind him. Tier followed at a loss. Servants collected their horses, leading them around the building, and out of sight.

Tier’s gut churned. The proprietor of the inn, in that little village, must have sent word ahead of them. How else could the guards have gotten there so quickly?

They were led into large, sparsely decorated room with a circular table. The man in red turned, facing them. A glance dismissed the guards. Tier studied him. There was power, contained and kept under rigid control. This man was no minor lord, no flunky doing someone else’s bidding.

“I find it concerning that the youngest son of Emperor Talon is in my city.” The man said in a low voice.

“A personal trip, not official, Lord Nesh.” Tier gritted his teeth. The man kept looking at Xin and it was getting aggravating. And Nesh wasn’t the only one. He’d seen the people stopping, staring at her as they’d traveled through the city. She stepped closer to him, her hands tight fists at her sides. Geb was gripping her arm, his knuckles white.

“There is no such thing as unofficial in Nekar.” Lord Nesh said. “Why are you in Sandau?”

“None of your business.” Tier said.

They glared at each other. Lord Nesh’s jaw clenched and he took a deep breath, then let it out, eyes flickering past Tier. Tier felt a whisper of sound, saw out of the corner of his eye a flickering gray shape. As he turned to get a better look, a tall narrow panel swung open, revealing a hidden door and passage, and from it stepped a slender, short robed figure. Pale hands pushed the hood of the robe back, revealing a youthful pale face framed by soft, white-gold hair. Her colorless, pupilless eyes gave sent Tier’s heart racing.

A seeress? Tier swallowed,. The Seeress of Sandau, old, half remembered stories gave him her title, though he could remember nothing else. He barely heard Rale’s whispered curse over the pounding of his heart in his ears.

“Lord Nesh, escort the Elementals, and Lord Rale, to the waiting house near the river. I will speak with his Imperial Highness.” She moved through the room with an ethereal grace. Far smoother than the Seeress had.

Lord Nesh looked for a moment as if he were going to protest, but the seeress rested her hand on his arm. They stared at each other for a long, silent moment and Tier heard a whisper, almost like standing at the end of a hall and overhearing a distant conversation. There was no pressure, no tell-tale signs of the seeress using any sort of power. Lord Nesh inclined his head and motioned for the others to follow. They all looked at Tier first. Xin looked frightened, Rale ill and Geb confused. Tier nodded. They didn’t have much of a choice.

 

Tier locked eyes on this Seeress, his heart was pounding in his ears. He waited for it, the pressure in his head, the feeling of something moving in his mind. She smiled and motioned the hallway.

“It has been years since a Nekarian dared grace these lands. There are things we need to discuss.”

In silence she led him to a circular room adorned with murals of winged creatures, soldiers and several pale figures. In the center of the room sat a small table with two elegant chairs. Dainty tableware adorned it, the cups small and steaming with rich red liquid.

Tier stepped towards the murals, the feeling of an ice cold finger trailing up his spine sent chills through his body. The first mural was of two women, pale and beautiful. Youthful, timeless, the one in the foreground was her, the creature responsible for him being there. Tier frowned, looking at the second woman. They were identical. Except for the eyes. The second woman’s eyes were a pale blue.

“Who is this woman?” Tier asked before he could stop himself. He suspected he knew. The old stories of the founding of Nekar rushed to mind.

“Nekita. Once she served as Voice of the Spirit Elementals. Before she betrayed her own people.” The Seeress of Sandau sat at the table, watching him. “They were twins, though they served different orders. They tried to tear our world apart.” She motioned him over to the table. “At first Nekita resisted, but their blood ties made it difficult.”

“Why?” Tier asked.

“The stronger a blood bond, the more control a Spirit Elemental has over those close to her. Unable to resist for long, Nekita joined her sister. After their descent, the Spirit Elementals were forbidden to have children.”

“Ancient history.” Tier tore his eyes from the eye symbol to meet the Seeress of Sandau’s gaze. She tilted her head to one side.

“My name is Launi, I have been the Spirit Elemental representative for Sandau for a very long time. My order is from the Northwest, a place of ice unknown to Nekar.”

Tier studied her, taller than Xin, shorter than he, unlike the Nekarian Seeress there was something almost friendly about her. She felt approachable, though he could feel her presence heavily in the room.

“Why have you detained our company?” He asked, hooking thumbs in his sword belt. She motioned the empty chair.

“Sit, your highness. You have been on the road for a long time, haven’t you?”

“I am not one for tea parties, my lady.”

Her hand lowered slowly, resting on the table.

“You are far from home, your highness, and wary. Sit.” He felt the crack of power in the last word. His legs moved him, unwilling, to the table though his mind was screaming at him to stop. He gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to drop in the chair. He glared at the woman he could have easily broken in two. He felt a pressure against his mind and gritted his teeth, jerking his head to one side, as though trying to shake off a fly.

“Stay out of my mind.” It came out as a growl and he realized he’d drawn his sword. The pressure faded as rapidly as it had grown and they both stared at the point, which hovered near her throat.

Her eyes narrowed. “Not in over a thousand years,” she whispered, leaning forward. “Put the sword away your highness, and please join me. I fear you are in much danger from Kera. Far more than I realized.”

“Stay out of my head, and we’ll talk.” He sheathed his sword, eyes locked on her. Out of the corner of his eye a gray ghost flickered moving closer. He glanced its way.

“You see ghosts.” Her voice soft. A smile flickered across her lips. “You can feel when you are in the presence of an elemental, can’t you?”

He said nothing, his heart resuming its pounding.

“When an elemental uses their powers you feel the pulse of power, don’t you?”

“Just saying yes to one of those things is a death sentence in Nekar, milady.” he forced the words out.

“But we are not in Nekar, your highness and you’ve been traveling with two elementals.” She lifted her dainty looking cup. “Sit down, your highness, you are looking decidedly gray. If you were to fall over, you’d smash my table.”

“Rules are the rules.” Tier murmured. His head spun. How had she known?

“Why did you come to Sandau, your highness? I could simply take the information from your head. But that would be a battle neither of us is prepared to wage.”

Tier took a steadying breath. “I was ordered to locate one of each elementals and bring them before the Seeress.”

“Why?”

Tier frowned, trying to remember exactly what the Seeress had said. “To repair the world…”

“Repair the world?” Launi looked at him incredulously.

Tier said nothing. Now, away from the Seeress, seeing everything he’d seen, it sounded ludicrous.

“Why send you? She has an entire nation to order about. Why the imperial prince?”

“We don’t question her.” Tier said grimly. “That could be very unhealthy.”

Launi nodded. “Yes. Yes I suppose it would be. So you collected these two, the water elemental and the earth shaper?”

“They agreed to come with us.” He frowned. “For a time at least.”

“I see.” She sipped at her drink, frowning. Tier felt the hair on the back of his neck tingle. She was doing something, but the power was so subtle he wasn’t sure what. “There is a term for what you are, your highness. Spirit elemental.”

“No.”

Launi continued, setting her cup down. “That is why Kera sent you. You can feel other elementals. And she knew it.”

Had it come from any other source, Tier would have laughed. But her expression, the tone of her words… She believed it. Looking back…. He almost believed it.

“I am no elemental, my lady.” he said stiffly.

“When you return, she will take your mind apart. She will want to see where you have been, who you have been associating with. And when she is done with you she will kill you.” Launi rested a finger on the table.

“I am not so easily killed, my lady.”

“No, I’m sure you’re not.” Launi leaned back. “But Kera doesn’t like competition. She has tools, abilities at her disposal that you can’t possibly imagine. Any elementals, aside from herself and her select group of acolytes are killed.”

“What do you think, would have made her think…” he stopped. Memories of seeing bodies in a river. His parents told him it took the Seeress herself to calm him as a child. He stared at Launi.

“She chose you to undertake this quest for two reasons, you could feel the elementals and by doing so it would prove once and for all that you are, without a doubt, an elemental yourself. A potential rival.”

Tier took a deep breath. “Surely you aren’t pointing this out, out of the goodness of your heart.”

“You need to learn to master your abilities. If you return south,”

“I have business back home, my lady. My duty is to the Empire.” He gritted his teeth. “And the Seeress. I will not go back on my word.”

“Knowing she will try to kill you and you still return?” Launi asked softly.

“Seeress Kera does not rule Nekar, my lady. My father, the Emperor, does.” He rested a hand on the table. “I ask you again, why have you detained my group? We have no quarrel with you.”

Launi stared at him slowly shaking her head. “Our two nations stand on the brink of war, your highness. Your reputation is known even here. We cannot have you roaming around.”

“This is a private matter.”

“But you are still a powerful man, in control of a equally powerful army that could be used against us. Nesh believes you are a spy.”

“I couldn’t care less for what that man thinks.”

“I do, your highness.” She trailed her finger along the tabletop. “And among your group you have a woman who is a water user from Dhaul. I recognized her. She is the daughter of Water Master Corrin.”

“Water Master? General Corrin?” Tier’s heart sank. His conversation with Chiron flashed to mind. What exactly had he said to Chiron? He couldn’t remember but now, the look on Chiron’s face… He knew. Somehow he was certain his slime of a cousin knew who Xin was. How the hell had he missed that?

“Yes, General Corrin. We cannot allow you to leave Sandau in the company of the General’s daughter. Her life would not be worth much in Nekar. Nor the Earth shaper. They are a rare group, like the water elementals. Kera has almost succeeded in wiping them all out.”

Tier nodded, unable to think of anything to say.

“On the morrow, Nesh’s men will escort you and your cousin out of the city and back to Nekar.”

It would be best, he told himself, Xin would be protected here, so would Geb. Launi just took the choice out of his hands.

 

 

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, Dec 16th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it.

Want more to read? Check out J.A. Marlow’s Summer Crash serial & A.J. Devial’s Distant Sun

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 21

This entry is part 22 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

 

The house was a small building near the river. The pull of the water tugged at Xin as she stepped into the sparsely decorated main room. An archway led to a small kitchen and stairs set against one wall led up to what she assumed a loft or bedroom. It reminded her of the house she grew up in.

“Is there a reason we’re being detained?” Rale’s voice broke through the sudden nostalgia. Xin glanced at him. His jaw was clenched, eyes locked on the Lord of Sandau. Lord Nesh’s eyebrow arched.

“You are Nekarian. Need there be any other reason?”

Xin swallowed as Lord Nesh’s gaze landed on her. His eyes narrowed.

“An elemental traveling with a Nekarian butcher,” he clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Makes one wonder.”

“It was my choice to travel with them, my lord. Their manners have been impeccable.” Xin said. She bit off an insulting remark. It wouldn’t have helped anything.

“Indeed.”

“He saved my life.” Geb said. Lord Nesh looked at the boy, his lip twitching. For a moment Xin thought the Lord would smile.

“For what purpose, I wonder. Nekarians are not known for kindness to Elementals.”

“It’s none of your business, Lord Nesh.” Rale said. He stepped between Xin and Nesh. The guards shifted, hands going to their swords, though they didn’t draw. Nesh held a hand to one side and the guards slowly relaxed. “Our reasons for traveling together are our own.”

Nesh’s eyes narrowed. “As are my reasons for detaining you. Stay in the house, leaving might be detrimental to your health.” He turned and left. The guards exchanged dubious glances and followed him. Xin looked at the closed door, her heart hammering in her chest.

“Now what?” Geb asked.

“We wait for Tier.” Rale glanced at them and went to the stairs. “That’s all we can do.”

Tier was quiet when he returned. Outside the guards that had accompanied him were speaking quietly with the guards at the door. Xin swallowed as he glanced at her, then locked eyes with Rale. He jerked his head towards the kitchen and the two men stepped into the other room leaving Geb and Xin staring at each other. She could hear the men talking, their voices were low but urgent.

“Xin?” Geb touched her arm. “What’s happening?”

Xin shook her head. “Let’s go find out.”

Neither man looked her way when she entered. Rale pointed to an empty chair at the coarse table near a window. Xin sat, unable to look away from Tier.

“We’re being escorted back to Nekar.” Tier said. He met her eyes. “Without you or Geb.”

Xin looked back and forth between them, her mind frozen. She’d never planned to go to Nekar, but being left this way. She forced herself to breathe. They’d be returning without Elementals. “Your mission. If you go back without us,”

“The decision is out of my hands.” Tier hesitated and looked away. “The Seeress will understand.”

Xin doubted that. “What will happen to us?” she whispered.

“The Seeress here is arranging for you both to be trained in your elements. She believes returning to Nekar would put your life in danger.” His jaw clenched. “I believe she’s right.”

Xin stared at the whirls in the tabletop.

“There are other Elementals here?” Geb’s voice was loud in the quiet room.

“From what she said, there are masters in every element.” Tier said.

“The Seeress isn’t going to like it.” Rale’s voice shook.

“She doesn’t have to like it. Our hands are tied.”

Rale nodded. “We leave in the morning then?”

Tier nodded. “Get some rest Rale. We’ll be riding hard to get back to Nekar.” He left them sitting, stunned.

Xin stared at Rale. “What is he not saying, Rale?”

Rale shrugged. “I have no idea. I haven’t seen him like this.” he looked at her and swallowed. “This is better. You will be safer than in Nekar.”

“I know.” Xin stood glancing around the small kitchen. Fear was raging in her head. Not for her, but for Tier and Rale.

“Xin,” Rale began.

“He’s right, Rale.” She looked at him. “You’d better get some rest.”

His things were piled on a narrow cot in one of the rooms upstairs. Tier knelt beside it, trying to clear his mind. Heavy footfalls announced Rale’s arrival. His cousin was swearing with each step. Tier gritted his teeth. He couldn’t let Rale know what he knew.

“Any particular reason we’re being tossed out of the country?”

“We’re Nekarians.” Tier shrugged and upended his travel packs. He needed to repack and there were some things he couldn’t risk taking with him.

“And?”

“Sandau is on the verge of war with Nekar.” Tier shrugged. “We’re lucky they’re not going to hold us captive. Or for ransom.”

Rale hissed. “Don’t say that. Don’t want to give them any ideas!”

Tier snorted and stared over the pile on the cot. His papers, travel notes, the cloth wrapped book, and the box from Dhaul. All of it important. His gut twisted. If he took it with him…

“Tier, I don’t trust these Sandau people. Or their Seeress. Did you see the way Nesh was looking at Xin?” Rale asked in a rush.

Tier studied him. “Xin can hold her own against an arrogant backwater Lord. As of this afternoon,” he swallowed looking back at the stuff. “I’m no longer responsible for her well being.”

“And what about Geb?” Rale asked after a moment.

“Launi is arranging for them both to be trained by masters in their element. They’ll be safer here than anywhere I would take them.”

“Launi?” Rale stared at him. “On a first name basis with their seeress?”

“If anything she’s far more approachable than the Seeress of Nekar.”

I don’t like it.” Rale murmured.

“Go check the stores in the kitchen. See if there’s any food we can take with us. We’ll ride hard to get home.”

The silence stretched. “You’re trying to get rid of me.” Rale accused.

Tier said nothing.

“You’re keeping secrets, Tier.”

He just looked at Rale until his cousin turned and stomped down the stairs swearing under his breath.

Tier leaned against the cot. My secrets will be the death of me.

He lifted the book, staring at his family’s crest before opening it and flipping back to the last entry. The symbol sitting beside his grandmother’s name. The symbol of the Seeress; the eye with coiling ends crossed through what looked like scratch marks. His stomach roiled and he flipped back through the book with trembling hands. The symbol was there, every four or five generations. He fought bile rising in his throat. She was his grandmother. He closed the book, staring at it.

“Great gods.” He whispered. The stronger a blood bond, the more control a Spirit Elemental has over those close to her. He rubbed his forehead.

Seeress Kera controlled the throne.

He stuffed the book, the box and almost all of his traveling papers into the smaller pack and stared at it. If it fell into her hands, it could get him and others killed. He pushed the bag beneath the cot, pushing it as far as he could and straightened. To protect Rale, to keep Xin safe and maybe even slide out of her scrutiny he had to keep quiet. Perhaps Launi or her minions would find it. If they did they could… Could what? Destroy her?

He swallowed. He was thinking like a traitor. She’d led their people to the great success. Without her, Nekar wouldn’t exist and their people would be nothing but nomadic barbarians. He laid back on the cot, staring up at the rafters.

 

Tier was kneeling by the wall where the packs were. Xin hesitated at the top of the stairs. She wanted a moment with him, before he left. Just a few months of traveling with this man had changed her, and now he was leaving her behind. No, she was staying where things would be safer for her. She tightened her robe and forced herself to go down the stairs. He turned and stood eyebrows arching.

“Kind of late, what are you doing up?” There was an edge to his voice. Xin forced a grin.

“I could ask you the same thing.” She stepped over motioning the bags. “Leaving in the middle of the night?”

“The guards are soft.” he said with a shrug. He turned towards the kitchen, an empty bag in hand. “I think it might do them some good to have a change in plans.”

Xin chuckled and followed him. He lit the lamp from an ember in the stove and set it on the small table. The glow gave the kitchen a warm, homey feeling, or was it him standing there? Xin swallowed, forcing back regrets.

“You’re mean.” She leaned against the door jamb watching him pack things into the bag. He glanced her way, the crooked smile directed at her made her stomach knot.

“I know. But those guards, if they know how to ride a horse I’ll be surprised.”

Xin chuckled, but her smile faded quickly. She swallowed several times as he continued raiding the pantry.

“Will you ever return?” She had to know, He looked at her, and gave a barely perceptible shrug.

“When I return it will be as a conqueror.” His voice was low. “Whatever you can learn from these people, do so, then get far from Sandau.”

“How soon?”

“Couple years maybe?” He looked a touch sad. “If Chiron’s forces are successful, they’ll given Nekar an opening to Sandau.”

“Oh. You think Chiron’s forces will win?”

“Eventually.” Tier shook his head, looking down in the bag in such a way that his hair, longish and tousled obscured his expression. Xin frowned.

“She is not known for understanding or kindness.” she whispered. He nodded.

“True. At this point though it is out of my hands. Launi won’t allow me to take you or Geb with me. The Seeress will fume, but I’ve done what she’s asked.” He tied off the bag and set it down beside him. Xin nodded, staring at the bag, at his feet, the floor, anywhere but his face. She feared she would cry if she did.

“It’s not fair.” She said forcing herself to meet his eyes, heart pounding. He nodded. Xin felt the prickles in her eyes, the tightness in her throat.

“Life never is.” he said.

She shook her head. “That doesn’t help.”

He held out his hand and Xin took it, letting him draw her closer. His hands, rough and strong yet gentle as he folded his arms around her pressing his lips against the top of her head. “It never would have worked, we both know that.”

“I know.” She pressed her forehead against his chest feeling his strength, fear for him and what might happen raging. She wanted to beg him to stay with her. He lifted her chin, with a finger, forcing her to look up at him.

“You are far safer here, Xin, more than you realize.” His thumb brushed her lower lip and she could feel his hand pressing against her back, warm through her robe and nightgown.

“I know.” she pressed her palms against his chest.

He kissed her and every thought vanished in a sudden heat. She closed her eyes, savoring the taste of him the feel of his arm around her When the kiss broke they stood for several heartbeats in silence, forehead to forehead. Words were useless and thinking hurt. Xin stepped back, reluctant to leave his embrace but terrified of what might happen if she stayed.

“I should go back to bed.” she whispered.

“Might be a good idea.” his voice was hoarse, his breathing harsh and his eyes so intense she feared she would burn up in his gaze. “Before we get into trouble.”

“Be careful Tier.”

She half ran back up the stairs to her room, her body on fire and bittersweet tears filling her eyes. She heard the footfalls outside on the landing and heard Tier and Rale talking in low voices in Nekarian. She heard the front door open, the murmur of the guards protesting the middle of the night leaving and the closing door echoed in her ears.

~*~

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 22

This entry is part 23 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

“Traveling with the Imperial prince must have been interesting.” The Seeress of Sandau, a slim woman Lord Nesh addressed as Lady Launi, sat on a delicate looking chair at a dainty table. Like the furniture, she looked as though a strong wind would blow her away. Her face, ageless, was serene, her long fingers laced together in her lap. Behind her, leaning against the wall beside the door, stood Lord Nesh. He was tall, broad shouldered, and surrounded by an aura of power. As tanned as his people and, Xin quietly admitted to herself, he was very attractive. She swallowed a surge of guilt and tried to focus on Lady Launi’s words and avoid looking directly at either Lady Launi or the Lord Nesh. The murals gave her chills which left her studying the tabletop. Lady Launi’s soft voice broke through her thoughts. “He acted honorably?”

“If you are asking if he raped me, no. Nor did he or Rale ever threaten to. Next question.” Xin stared hard at the pale eyed creature. She wasn’t sure where Lady Launi was looking and it added to her unease.

Lady Launi bowed her head, lips twitching. “Prince Tier’s reputation,”

“I’m well aware of his reputation, my lady.” Xin swallowed. She was going to get herself in trouble.

“Of course. You would be.” Lady Launi smiled.

“What is to become of Geb and I?”

“Earth Master Iro and Water Master Euka have agreed to take you on to train you.” Lord Nesh said. Xin looked up at him in surprise. “Water Master Euka also trained Corrin, when she arrived here.”

Xin’s heart pounded in her ears. “Corrin?” Vague memories beat at her. She shoved them away. Now was not the time to dwell on the past, hazy and indistinct as it was.

“Your mother I believe.” Lady Launi touched her arm. “Lady Xin,”

“I am no lady.” Xin muttered. Lady Launi shook her head.

“You are a water elemental. You’ve already managed great feats with your gifts. You have earned the title, Lady. Now, your mother is not in Sandau at the moment. She has a small house which stands open most of the year,”

“No.” Xin swallowed and shook her head. “That wouldn’t be right, not without her knowing I’m here.”

Lady Launi nodded and opened her mouth as though to say something when a knock at the door made them jump. Lord Nesh reached over and turned the knob. A slim woman with wild curly red hair stepped into the room. She nodded at Lord Nesh and smiled warmly at Xin.

“Aitelle, you are interrupting.” Lady Launi said. Aitelle flinched.

“I know. I apologize.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “The whole city is afire with rumors about General Corrin’s daughter.”

“I’m certain it is. The resemblance is quite striking.” Lord Nesh said. “There will be many curious eyes watching them.”

“I’d rather be back in the desert.” Geb scowled.

“Me too.” Xin murmured.

“I live in an old stable near the river. There are lots of spare rooms. Right behind it is a stream. You’d be able to practice your skills without drawing a crowd. And beyond the stream are the training grounds.” Aitelle looked at Geb. “You’d be able to work on your skills. It’s out of the way, not prone to lots of foot traffic and people usually try to avoid it.” Aitelle glanced at Xin. “As long as you don’t mind sand dragon musk, you are more than welcome.”

“Sand dragon?” Xin stared. Did the woman keep a dragon?

“Aitelle is from the canyons to the West, near where you and your traveling companions were. Her people were slaughtered by the Nekarians.” Nesh said grimly. “She acquired a baby sand dragon before coming to Sandau.”

“I rescued Ryuu from the soldiers and he chose to follow me.” Aitelle corrected him and then spread her hands out. People don’t bother us. It would be a place for you to get comfortable here.”

Xin glanced at Geb whose eyes were wide, watching the red haired woman. He looked at Xin.

“I think it’s a good idea.” His voice was barely audible.

Xin nodded. “I do too.”

“Shall we consider it as decided then?” Lord Nesh asked.

Launi inclined her head.

“With all due respect then, Ladies, I have meetings to attend.” He gave a slight bow and left. Lady Launi sighed.

“I’ll be needed at those meetings also.” She tipped her head to one side. “Aitelle,”

“I’ll give them a tour of the place.” The woman grinned.

 

“The city has stood for close to two thousand years, they say.” Aitelle said as they made their way along a side road towards the outskirts of town. “And they say even before it was a city there has always been a settlement here.”

“Why?” Geb asked. Aitelle pointed at the river.

“The river. It connects Sandau to the coasts. Here we are.” Aitelle pointed towards the two storied building. A rough path lead to the wide wooden door. In front, fenced off, was a large stable-yard with a shed leaning against the building.

“The plateau behind the stable is the training grounds. You can’t see the stream from here, but trust me, it’s there.” Aitelle motioned them to follow her as she simply floated a hand span off the ground to the porch. She waited beside the door.

Geb pointed. “Xin look, in the shadow, do you see that?”

That was a large something, coiled tightly in a mound, the tip of its tail twitching. Xin’s mouth went dry and the thing uncoiled its head. The sand dragon, far smaller than the ones they’d encountered in the canyon, shook its head, the frills making a rusting sound. Its eyes narrowed as it spotted them but it simply laid its head back atop its coils.

“He won’t hurt you or attack. Unless you step past the fence.” Aitelle advised.

“I’ll keep that in mind. What happens once we’re trained?” Xin asked.

“Training never stops. We always strive to improve and get stronger. Once you’re advanced enough, then you’ll be free to go wherever you want. Well, you could leave right now, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Aitelle shrugged.

“Why?”

“Nekar and her mindset is like a plague. And being Corrin’s daughter, it might not be a good idea for you to travel abroad.”

“I see.” Xin stared up the road they’d walked down. The curious onlookers had halted at the top of the hill. She resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at them.

“At least no one here will try to stone you if you use your gifts.” Aitelle said.

“Or chase us out of town.” Geb leaned against the fence and looked up at Aitelle. Again, Xin got the sense of far greater age than the boy had years. “When will the Masters be here?”

“Probably in the morning.” Aitelle opened the door. “Come inside and I’ll show you around. Consider this place home for as long as you need.”

Xin swallowed and nodded. “Thank you.”

 

Lady Launi stared at the mural, at her nemesis. She felt within the room, and herself, the coils of uncertainty and doubt stirring. Long ago, Kera, the Seeress of Nekar, had been a near unstoppable force. Launi was still in training in the far north when the war broke out. How could she hope to stand up against the mad creature now? Kera might be south of the mountains that blocked Nekar from the rest of the world, but Launi wondered how long she was going to stay down south.

“She has stayed in Nekar for a thousand years, my lady. We always knew she would creep back north.” Lord Nesh said. Launi glanced at him. Waiting patiently behind him, stood the elemental masters and several commanders in charge of Nesh’s forces. She looked back at the mural as Nesh continued. “At least the Lady Nekita isn’t part of this any more.”

“Very true. I couldn’t have stood against them both.” She stared hard at the mural. The youthful faces. “Yet ’tis not her I worry about.” Nesh made a sound.

“He’s a Nekarian butcher, my lady.” Nesh’s voice was bitter. “He wouldn’t think twice anout grinding this city underfoot.”

“The man encountered was a far different man than the rumors would have us believe him to be.” She looked up at Nesh. “And he is the first male Spirit Elemental I’ve encountered in my lifetime, perhaps the first since the Founding. Untrained he blocked me. What might he do, were he trained properly? And we have sent him back to her, to be slaughtered. What secrets are hiding beneath the veil Kera has cast over that land? Is he the only one? Or are there others, hiding their abilities to stay alive.”

“I’ve reports of periodic religious purges. Perhaps that is what is behind them.” Earth Master Iro suggested.

“You sure she’ll kill him?” Someone else asked. “If he is powerful, as you suspect, what are the chances she will train him as her pupil instead?”

“Slight. She couldn’t even accept Nekita’s presence, her own twin.” Launi turned, looking over the assembled. “I doubt she would accept the help of a male elemental.”

“But the possibility is there?” Lady Iro said. The slim Earth Shaper sipped from the tea cup and tipped her head to one side. “That would make things interesting.”

“Interesting is an understatement, Lady Iro.” Lord Nesh said dryly.

“I should have found a way to convince him to stay.” Launi murmured.

“Too little information too late, my lady.” Lord Nesh said. “He will not abandon his people. If he is as honorable as Corrin’s daughter claims…”

“It’s sad how deluded Nekar is.” Lady Iro said wistfully.

“Sad, yes. And dangerous.” Lord Nesh said. “A deluded man with a sword can still kill.”

“Through the minds of those two men she’ll learn I’m here. And when she realizes it, I fear she will make her move north. The war will accelerate.”

“The second Seeress War?” Someone asked. Launi shook her head.

“The first one never ended. Only paused briefly.” Launi eyed each of them. “Prepare the elementals. Someone needs to get word to Corrin and let her know she is needed back here.”

“Last I heard, she was going to be meeting up with her lover on The Prancing Dragon.” One of Lord Nesh’s advisors said.”It runs cargo up and down the eastern coast.”

“We’ll send message to Tyrsleth.” The Water Master said. “She’ll be happy to hear about Xin. She was heartbroken about leaving her behind.”

“Say nothing of Xin.” Launi said quickly. “The young woman has reservations, and concerns.  I will honor those.”

“Yes my lady.”

Launi turned to the Earth Shaper. “Lady Iro, find the old passages under the city. Make sure they’re sound. Prepare them.”

“Prepare them for what?” Iro whispered. Her dark eyes wide.

“War.”

The silence stretched and Launi turned back to the mural, resuming her study Kera’s smooth, child-like face. She felt the others hesitate and leave, all but one. She smiled. He would stay. He always did. She glanced at Nesh, eyebrow arched.

“How soon do you think Nekar will march?”

She studied him for a long time. “Soon, Nesh.” She turned back to the mural, staring hard at the Seeress Kera. “Too soon.”

~*~

I’m on a mission to finish the edit and get this thing up for sale before the end of the first week of 2015. It’s months late and for that I apologize. 

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 23

This entry is part 24 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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,”

“Father,”

“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.”

“Howso?”

“He’s managed to keep the water limited to the royal grounds, doling it out to the rest of the city in limited amounts.”

“Interesting.”

“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.”

“Tier,”

“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,”

“We who?”

“What?”

“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.”

“I see.”

“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.”

“Promise?”

“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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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 24

This entry is part 25 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 25

This entry is part 26 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

The air was cool and held a hint of autumn. Mist blanketed the valley and from the center of it rose the Oracle. He gritted his teeth and nodded a silent greeting to Rale. They stood before the closed gates, staring up at the insignia. The only sound was the haunting melody that was so familiar.

“Where are the priests?” Rale asked. He was unshaven and had a pallor to his skin that made him look ill.

“I don’t know.” Tier glanced up at the wall. No movement, nothing. He stepped over, raising his hand to knock on the gate when it swung silently inward.

In the center of the courtyard stood a small robed figure, not much taller than the Seeress. Thin hands reached up, pushing the hood of the robe back revealing a very pale, blue eyed woman with a crown of white gold hair. Her robes once fine silks that might have been blue, were tattered and worn, moving about her in a wind he couldn’t feel. Tier swallowed, desperately wishing for a drink.

“Prince Tier.” The woman tipped her head to one side. Tier felt a brush against his mind, like butterfly wings, and pushed back at it. Her eyebrows arched and an odd smile crossed her lips before she peered at Rale. “Lord Rale. You are both late.”

“Where are the Priests?” Rale’s voice had a high pitched edge to it. She chuckled, the sound did nothing to ease Tier’s discomfort.

“The Festival of Hope draws them south to the coast this time of year.” Her voice was so low that Tier had to strain just to hear her.

“And you are?” Rale was frowning at her.

“Kit.” Tier answered for her, chills running up his spine as her remembered the old stories whispered in taverns and round campfires. The mind-breaker. The Voice of the Seeress. Rale went paler and swayed on his feet. She inclined her head slowly not looking away from Tier.

“That is what they call me, yes.” She made a slow circle around them, her hands pressed together in front of her. “You were sent for Elementals.”

“We were unable to bring them with us.” Tier said as she stepped in front of him and looked up at him. Her eyes were familiar, but he couldn’t remember from when.

“She will not be pleased.” Kit said after a moment. She shook her head and motioned towards the corridor leading to the Seeress’s room. “It is time.”

“I did as she asked.” Tier crossed his arms. She turned back to look up at him, her expression impossible to read.

“Yes, you did. Hopefully, for your sakes, she’ll remember her part.” She looked at Rale for a long moment before motioning them again to go down the corridor. Rale sighed and went, Tier stayed rooted, staring at the her.

“She waits for you, your highness.” The soft voice was hypnotic.

“Will she honor her part?”

Kit looked up at him and again he felt the butterfly wings brushing his mind. He pushed back, scowling and she smiled.

“I can’t answer that, your highness. She is not in a good mood.” Her voice never rose, yet it chilled him further. She knew what he could do. He nodded and followed Rale into the silent Oracle.

Each step echoed against the walls and the pressure he’d felt since returning to Nekar grew stronger. When they reached the inner sanctum, Tier could barely see. Pain shot through his head as the Seeress entered the room. His eyes locked on her, struck again by how young she looked. This creature was over a thousand years old? Two thousand? She stared at him, her blank eyes boring into his. He felt the pressure increase and could almost feel her fingers clawing at his mind.

He shuddered, unable to stop himself. He was certain she was trying to get into his mind.

“You failed.” Her voice, harsh and brittle compared to Kit’s soft tones, crawled over his skin. Her movements were less fluid than before, far more agitated.

“You said if we couldn’t bring them back,” Rale began. The Seeress turned her head and Rale gripped the sides of his head with a hoarse cry. Tier took a half step towards his cousin and then glared at the Seeress.

“We were hindered by another like you.” Tier said, somehow his shakes faded as she looked back at him, eyes wide. His fear faded, anger beginning to boil. This little creature had held Nekar in the palm of her hand for centuries. Even now his father was acting not on his own but in response to her. The pressure he’d felt since arriving back home was the Seeress, he was certain of it.

“There are no others like me.” She whispered. Tier was aware of the tattered robed Kit kneeling beside Rale.

“She called herself Launi.” Tier continued. Kit looked towards him but his kept his gaze on the Seeress. Kera, he reminded himself, her name was Kera. “She seemed to feel you were not entirely truthful with me when you asked me to look for elementals.”

“Did she?”

On the ground Rale groaned.

“Father informed me that you told him I was looking for a General’s daughter. That is not what you asked us to do.”

“Are you questioning me?” Her voice cold. On the ground Rale groaned.

“Yes I am.” He gripped his sword belt, his palms sweaty. He was a dead man already, he could see it on her face, he might as well give her a piece of his mind. “I was sent away from my duties under false pretenses. I have a war I am fighting, my men need me there. Not traipsing around the world looking for elementals who are not as extinct as we have been led to believe they were. How many other lies have you told our people?” Pressure upon pressure on his skull dropped him gasping to his knees. He glared up at her. She knelt, her fingernail scraping his cheek.

“You presume much, your highness.” She whispered hoarsely.

“Do I?” He narrowed his eyes. “Grandmother?”

For a brief moment the pressure stopped, he heard a gasp, the white faded from her eyes revealing a pale blue, like the woman from the mural. The pressure and the white returned and his cheek felt hot along where her fingernail had traced. Pain, white hot shot through his cheek.

“You have outlived your usefulness, your highness. Open your mind to me and I might see fit to spare your life.”

“And let you control my every movement? No thank you.” He whispered. Pain blazed again, but this time on his back. He jerked forward arching his back blindly attempting to ease the pain. The Seeress cupped his face in her hands, her fingernails biting into his skin.

“Let. Me. In.”

Tier closed his eyes, feeling the claws in his head. “No.” Anger welled up, flaring around him and for a moment, when he opened his eyes and met hers, he saw. A thousand years of lies, experiences, births, deaths, the building of an empire and behind it all were the shadowed images of people he didn’t recognize.

Time rolled beneath him, the war of the Seers, a conflict which had stretched for thousands of years had come to a head. It had been they, the spirit elementals, the sisters, not the elementals, that nearly tore their world apart. Darkness clouded his vision and he felt himself falling.

“Traitor.” Her voice echoed in his mind even as the darkness crowded around him. “Take him to the desert.”

 

 

Water dripped in the distance. Kit stared at the place the two men had lain, her mind whirring. Unexpected. Very unexpected. Kera paced behind her, hands clenched at her sides.

“How could he have found out?” Kera rasped. “It’s impossible, no one could have figured it out!”

Kit didn’t answer. She kept her secrets tightly behind a public wall of nonsensical thoughts. Kera had long grown weary trying to batter through it, the centuries had left the Seeress a touch lazy.

“Kit!”

Kit looked at her, pulling her robes tightly around her. “What?”

“Go with the army to Sandau. I want Launi brought here in chains.”

Kit inclined her head and watched Kera make her way back into the private area. Behind her heavy footfalls and the jingling of armor announced the arrival of the Oracle Guards. They went out of their way to avoid Kera if they could. Kit listened to them shuffling uncomfortably.

“My lady?” The Captain’s voice was hesitant.

“I’ve told you not to call me that, Captain.” Kit met the man’s eyes. He swallowed and inclined his head.

“Forgive me. The prisoner is ready to be taken to the desert, we’re having trouble locating some shackles though. We may have to send to the capital for some.”

“Use rope.” Kit, moved past him.

“But, Kit, rope…”

“He won’t be waking up again, Captain.” She pulled her hood over her head and met his eyes. “I made sure of that. All you need is to keep him propped up on the pole. Right?”

The Captain stared at her for a long time before nodding. “Of course. What do you want us to do with their horses?”

“I’ll take care of the prince’s horse. Send Lord Rale’s back to his family with him.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good day, Captain.” Kit turned, making her way back to the courtyard.

The two travel weary horses stood patiently, waiting for their masters. She stepped up to the large warhorse, rubbing his nose. “You’ll do very well, won’t you?”

~*~

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Chapter 24                                      Table of Contents                   Chapter 26

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 26

This entry is part 27 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Tier struggled to open his eyes and regretted it. Before him stretched the brown sands of the Desert of Koursh, broken only by execution poles with dark huddled mounds at their bases. Heat rippled through the air, tricking the eye into believing there was standing water in the distance. His shoulders ached, his wrists were tied so tight he could barely feel his fingers. His heart pounded in his ears. In front of him, just half a man’s length from his boots, were his weapons and beside them a large water skin. Torture. To die knowing water was just out of reach. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the pole he was secured to.

Icy cold air heralded the arrival of the local ghosts. He opened his eyes again, staring at the hazy, indistinct shapes. They simply looked at him, hollows for eyes. Waiting for him to join them no doubt.

“Either help me out of this, or go away!” He growled. A wind he didn’t feel made the shapes dissolve, leaving him alone.

He tried to twist his hands behind him, swearing under his breath. The ropes barely budged, though he could grip his weak thumb with his hand. He stared at the clear blue sky and jerked as hard as he could. Pain shot up his arm twisting his gut. He slowly twisted his hand, gritting his teeth as bit by bit the rope slid over his thumb. Time suspended, narrowing down to pain and the creeping rope that held him against the rough pole. After an eternity his hand slipped free, loosening the rope around his other hand. He grunted, pushing away from the pole and moving his arms back to his sides. Tingles ran up and down them as blood flooded starved veins.

With gritted teeth he popped his thumb back into place, swearing again, and struggled to get to his feet. His body felt like lead, his head pounded. His tunic, cloak, armor, everything was gone. He half stumbled to his weapons and the precious water skin, crouching as he lifted it in trembling hands. He took a sip, enough to wet his parched mouth and jammed the stopper back in it. He had to save it. He stared at the weapons then looked around, fighting a wave of dizziness and nausea.

He was off the pole. Now what?

The question loomed in his mind. Where could he go? No doubt word had spread. There was no telling what that little bitch had told his people. He gathered his weapons, glancing around, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. There was no telling when the guards assigned to the valley were going to come back this way. He’d need to get out of the desert fast. South was the coast, north was the capitol, the palace and the oracle. He rubbed his forehead. He hadn’t felt any pressure since he woke.

She must not realize he was still alive. He stared towards the south, trying to remember the layout of the land. On the other side of the mountains was Lorn and the port. He could take a ship. He frowned. Where? The islands?

Nekar was being mobilized his father had said, they were going to march on Sandau. Tier nodded to himself. He had to go to Sandau. He’d have to go the long way, a ship up the eastern coast to Tyrsleth then south to Sandau. The plains city wasn’t capable of taking a siege. He needed to get Xin out. Or at least warn her. He tried not to think of what Launi had told him, tried not to think about what had happened when he faced Kera. He wondered what had befallen Rale and pushed that thought away. If he thought too hard about it, he might come apart and he didn’t have the luxury of time. He looked around one last time before heading towards the distant southern mountains.

Each step jarred his back, made the throbbing in his hand worse. Fear raged through him. Fear for his sister and father, even concern for his brother wiggled into each thought. He hoped they wouldn’t suffer on his account. He had done the impossible. Stopped the Kera from reading his mind, in fact he’d read hers. Shudders ran through him as the realization crashed down on him, chilling him beneath the unrelenting sun. Her memories were locked in his mind. He feared examining them too closely. He was afraid of what he’d find.

~*~

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Chapter 25                                      Table of Contents                   Chapter 27

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 27

This entry is part 28 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Estate of the Hassof Family

 

 

Rale felt as though he were swimming through a murky pool of water, trying to reach the surface, and failing miserably. He heard a whisper, the sounds of metal clinking and the loud creak of rusty hinges. His head was too heavy to turn, his eyes felt sealed shut. He couldn’t control his body. Fear raged inside him. Someone was there, was it her? He hoped it wasn’t, prayed she wouldn’t notice him. If he was quiet enough, maybe she’d go away. His mind was raw and sore. A wound gouged into his thoughts.

“Rale?” The voice echoed from a long dark passage. Female. Not her! Something cool, smelling like mint, was pressed against his forehead. A gentle palm pressed against his cheek. He smelled the perfume, light and floral. Her name swam up from the depths of his mind; Aryanda. His elder sister. He struggled to open his eyes, to say something. He heard a low groan and realized it was from him.

“There isn’t much time, Arya, hurry up.” A male voice, clipped and cultured, spoke. It was oddly familiar, though the name of the man elluded him.

“Rale, you have to get up.” Arya whispered. How could she sound so musical when she was whispering?

“Arya?” was that his voice? That cracked sound?

“It’s me. Open your eyes, we don’t have much time.” This time she shook him and pain shot through his body, from his back to his head. He groaned opened his eyes, staring up at her. Dark hair framing dark, concerned eyes.

“Where are we?” The words didn’t sound right. He tried again. “What happened?” He pushed himself up, glad for her help. He cringed when her hand touched his stinging back.

“Home. For now at least. She had me collect you.” Arya “She is expecting to come get you to finish her inquiries.”

Rale stared at her, memories rushing back. He’d hit the floor before Tier had. Rale swallowed. “Where’s Tier?”

Arya looked down, her voice a bare whisper. “She had him executed four days ago.” She looked back up, tears on her cheeks. “There are whispers purging the entire noble line. We have to get you out.”

“Out? We?” He blinked looking past her. Leaning against the wall near the door, arms crossed in front of him was a pale man in dark clothing.

“Xeresel has arranged for you to return to Sandau.” Arya handed him a tunic. He blinked realizing he wore only his underthings. Xeresel? Ambassador Xeresel? He stared at man, ignoring Arya’s attempts to get him out of the cot.

“What is a Bavanan sorcerer doing involving himself in Nekarian politics?” He demanded. Starting to get to his feet. A wave of dizzy swept over him and he plopped back to the cot.

“Saving your ass at the moment. Or trying to. Get dressed, Lord Rale. You are running on borrowed time.”

Rale numbly took his pants, pulling them on, and leaned against Arya as he fumbled with the belt. Lord Xeresel was said to be a powerful sorcerer related to the Queen of Bavanan herself. It was also rumored that he was a spy. Rale swallowed, staring at the man, wondering how much of the rumor might actually be true. He blinked, noticing a pale blue line of pulsing light running along the lines around the room. Next to Xeresel, on the wall, the light formed a circular pattern. Magic Glyph. He’d only heard of those in stories. Rale stared up at the man.

“Why?”

Xeresel gave a faint smile, leaning forward. “Because Arya asked so nicely. Hurry up my lord, we are running out of time.”

Rale took the boots Arya handed him and struggled to get them on his feet as she spoke.

“After we leave, go down to the stables. In the last stall is your horse, all ready to go. In the saddlebags are travel papers and money and a message for the Lady Launi.” Arya gave him a tight hug. “If I can, I’ll send messages through Moya in Tyrsleth.”

Rale got to his feet, fighting his churning stomach. “Arya, you are putting yourselves at risk, you can’t stay also,”

“I can’t leave. Not yet.” She gave a forced smile. “Too much going on.”

“Trust me, Rale, we have done far more than this to garner the Seeress’s wrath.” Xeresel said looking down at his fingernails.

Rale looked back and forth between them. “Like what?”

“There’s no time, Rale.” Arya embraced him quickly. “Someday, we’ll talk and I’ll explain.” She went to the door, resting hand on the doorknob.

“Good luck, my lord.” Xeresel extended a hand towards Rale.

Rale took the man’s hand, trying not to wince when Xeresel squeezed. The Bavanan man stepped back as the light receded, crawling back along the wall towards the round glyph which Xeresel covered with his palm. When he followed Arya out the door, the glyph vanished. Rale glanced at his hand and almost yelled, biting his lip at the last minute. Pulsing on his palm was a blue glyph. He touched it with his finger but he felt nothing but his skin.

“The spell will last long enough to get you out of Nekar unrecognized, but you must hurry. She can see right through it.” Xeresel’s voice was somber.

Rale looked up and felt chills working up his spine. Xeresel was no where to be seen. Neither was Arya. He stumbled to the door glancing at the two huddled forms beside it. Guards, sleeping, at least he hoped they were sleeping. He took a deep breath, and half ran, half stumbled down the hall like a drunken man. Sandau, Lady Launi, Xin, and Geb, the only things going through his mind. And the knowledge that he would have to tell Xin that Tier was dead. He swallowed. He couldn’t think about that now. He had to get out of Nekar.

~*~

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Chapter 26                                   Table of Contents

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 28

This entry is part 29 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  Hope you all enjoy it.

 

“In times of desperation, our abilities can do amazing things.” Water Master Euka lifted his hands. A large bubble of water lifted slowly out of the river, the sunlight shining through it, casting rainbows on the grass. “From what you’ve told me, every time you’ve used your powers on your travel, it was in response to danger.”

Xin nodded. He was a thin, small man with a roughly cut bowl of thick black hair. He motioned her over. “Like your mother, you haven’t been able to practice, to experiment, have you? She’d barely learned how to lift water from the river.”

“I only practiced in hiding. And late at night.” She said.

She too would hide at night and in storms to play. She was a fast learner though.” Water Master Euka chuckled. “And a bit of a trickster.”

“I have only faint memories of my mother.” Xin said slowly. It was strange hearing someone talk about her mother. And in a favorable light no less.

“There is a lifetime of catching up to do. There is no rush though, Xin. No rush at all. She regretted her inability to retrieve you.” He patted her arm and then made a sweeping motion with his hand. The water blob dropped back into the river and the water in the river rose in a huge crest, hovering before crashing back down into its bank and settling.

“I want you to practice, get used to the feel of the water, you’ve had to hide it to survive. Now to survive you must master it, control it.” Another blob of water lifted and shaped into a plate shape and froze. “Practice with the different aspects of water, you do know what those are, right?”

“Liquid, solid, steam.”

The little man sniffed and nodded, the ice melted and then dissolved into a small cloud. “I want you to practice that.” It became a big blob of water again and splashed back into the river. “Now.”

Xin nodded and lifted a blob of water. This was more than just playing. She focused on the water willing it to freeze. A shell appeared on the outer layer, slowly. She frowned trying to focus harder, the blob stayed half frozen. A blob of slush.

“Not bad.”

“It won’t freeze.” She said. “I’ve frozen things before.”

“How often have you tried to do this particular exercise?”

She frowned.

“Exactly. There is no desperation, no danger. This is all focus and conscious effort.” She felt him wrest the ice blob out of her grip and tossed it into the river. “You have to build up the skill and the stamina to use your gifts fully.”

“I’ll try to remember that.”

“It is a lot to remember. It is a lot of change. Walk with me.” The old man led her along the walkway beside the river. “Your mother has no affinity for healing, do you?”

“I’ve never tried.”

He sighed. “One can always hope, we’ll test you later, though with the traveling you’ve done, I would think you would have unlocked that ability.” He pointed towards the Spirit Elemental dome. “Each element has areas of specialty. Water is usually ice, steam, or healing. Earth used to have crystal shapers and metal manipulators, if the legends are true. Proficiency is rare these days. Kera,”

“The Seeress?”

He spat to the side. “She is no Seeress, she is a charlatan, a trickster. A manipulator. She killed the strongest of us. Wiped out a generation of healers, crystal shapers, metal workers. The elementals will never fully recover. Did you know the Air Dancers had floaters? Before I met Aitelle, I thought all of them had been wiped out. The greatest of the Fire Elementals, the Fire Lords, used to have the ability to do what is called a Holy Flame.” Water Master Euka turned to her. “Legends tell of spectacular deeds done by the Holy Flame.”

“What is it, exactly?”

“No one knows. There hasn’t been a Fire lord who can do it in, well if legends are correct, since before the Seer War.” He chuckled. “There are those who whisper that Nesh is powerful enough to use it, but I’ve never seen it personally.”

Xin shook her head. “We were told the elementals were all extinct. My own grandfather tried to stone me.”

The Water Master patted her arm. “You are safe now. Come, let’s go over to the training field. Nesh teaches the young fire elementals. It is an interesting process, if a bit dangerous.”

“Dangerous?”

“Fire, Xin. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get your eyebrows singed off.”

 

They found Lord Nesh crouched in the training field, surrounded by a group of children whispering and laughing. Nesh’s hands were outstretched and in his hand was a man-shaped flame walking across his palms. The children giggled and laughed as the little flame danced and then did cartwheels across his hands. The Water Master nodded in his direction, speaking in a low voice.

“The last true Fire Lord. His family has been in power in Sandau since before the war of the Seers. He’s far more powerful than his sire, or his grandsire for that matter. Some whisper he is like the great Fire Lords of old.”

Xin watched the Fire Lord, silently comparing him to Tier and shook herself. There was no comparison and it was stupid. Tier was never coming back. She had to move on. Lord Nesh stepped back nodding at the children who lined up in front of him, hands out. Some were able to conjure up little fire-men of their own, some were having trouble getting much more than flaring sparks.

“He’s been teaching the young ones since he mastered his own abilities.” The Water Master murmured.

“He seems good with children.” Xin observed.

“Aye.”

Lord Nesh noticed them, eyebrows arching, he said something to the children and then headed over.

“I see your eyebrows have grown back.” The Water Healer called, chuckling.

“Thanks to you.” Lord Nesh grinned and glanced at Xin. “Training children to use fire can be dangerous at times.”

“I can imagine.” Xin watched the little ones struggling to keep the little flames in their hands from going out. “Aren’t they a bit young?”

“That’s why they must be trained.” Lord Nesh nodded towards a little girl closest to them, no more than six possibly seven years old. “She’ll be a master if she can get the basics down. But fire is dangerous. We must keep control at all times, lest it gets away from us.”

“I can see how that could be a problem.”

“It is a serious matter.” Lord Nesh looked down at her. “And how are you settling in?”

Xin looked away and shrugged. “It’s busier here than Dhaul.”

“It is. If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.”

Before she could respond a man called for him from the crest of the low hill overlooking the river. Nesh waved once and glanced towards Euka and Xin.

“Excuse me, Euka, can you make sure they don’t singe each other?” He didn’t wait, turning and making his way at a half run to meet the messenger.

Xin watched him as he spoke with the messenger and the two disappeared over the hill. Euka had made his way over to the children speaking gently. The flames went out and they bowed, turned and filed away.

 

“We found this in the house you were assigned to when you first arrived.” The young man set the small bag on the table. Xin felt her mouth go dry, barely acknowledging Aitelle coming over. It was Tier’s bag, the smaller one. She opened it with nerveless fingers, frowning as she pulled out some of his papers.

“Why would he have left this?” She asked no one in particular. The papers were notes, some in Nekarian, some in other language, all in a similar script. At the bottom was the book and the small box he’d found in Dhaul. Xin held the box, staring at the top of it. Important enough to take with him only to leave it behind?

“Xin, what is it?” Aitelle’s voice broke through her daze.

“These are important papers.” She lifted the book, “He called this a treasure of the royal family.” She looked at Aitelle. “Why would he leave it behind?”

Aitelle took the book, carefully flipping through the pages. “I don’t know, it doesn’t seem to be all that important, does it?”

Xin put the papers back, carefully replacing everything.

“He didn’t want her to get her hands on it.” Geb whispered.

Xin stared at Geb, heart pounding in her ears. “Of course.” She closed the bag, glanced at Aitelle. “Please, don’t mention this.”

“Xin, what is it?”

“I’m not sure.” She took the bag up to her room, setting at the foot of her bed, then went to the window staring towards the horizon. Fear for him, for what she’d do to him brought tears to her eyes.

~*~

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Chapter 27                                   Table of Contents                          Chapter 29

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 29

This entry is part 30 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

Disclaimer;  Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing.  I’m sorry this bit took so long to get to you. Hope you all enjoy it.

 

Tier kept the borrowed hood over his head as he made his way through the crowded streets of Lorn. The largest of the coastal cities in Nekar, it was a center of trade and sported freedoms other cities’ no longer had. In his youth, Tier had loathed it and the influence of the visiting cultures. Now, he wasn’t so sure it deserved his disdain.

It was a bustling city, and at any moment he feared he’d see someone who would recognize him. It had taken close to three seven days to get to Lorn, through the mountains, and now that he was here, he feared he’d made a mistake. The docks were a bustle of activity, Tier leaned against a building trying to gather his thoughts. He had to get north, out of the country. His best bet would be to take a ship to Tyrsleth and then passage on a river barge to Sandau, to warn Xin and Geb to get out.

He didn’t want to think about the logistics, not yet. He wasn’t sure how he was going to manage it all. He pushed from the wall, glancing towards the podium where the Harbor Master observed the comings and goings of the ships and their crews. If anyone knew who was going north, he would. Tier hoped the man wouldn’t recognize him.

“I need a ship.” He spoke in a low voice.

“Aye? What?” He barely looked in Tier’s direction, he was fiddling with a coin on the podium.

“I need a ship to Tyrsleth.” Tier said. The Harbor Master’s hand stilled and he turned. His cataract hazed eyes widened and he swallowed.

“Yer sposed to be dead,” His voice was rough.

Tier swallowed, wondering if he should turn and run. A single word raised would alert the ever present guards that patrolled the harbor. “I need to get to Tyrsleth, as quickly as possible.”

The Harbor Master nodded slowly, and glanced around, fingers drumming on the podium. “Come on lad,” he motioned Tier to follow him. “The whole empire is shaking from your, err, death.”

“No one can know I’m not dead.” Tier gripped the man’s shoulder. The Harbor Master bobbed his head several times.

“No one will know. Yer secret is safe with me.” He pointed to a ship at the end of a long dock. “The Prancing Dragon. Captain Kerga runs a tight ship, don’t usually deal with passengers,”

“Then why,”

“Because she’s got no ties here, yer highness.” The Harbor Master hissed, half turning. He gave a gap-toothed grin. “Because you deserve better than a pole.”

The Harbor Master led him on the deck, and Tier felt his stomach do an uneasy flop. He could feel the motion of the ship on the water, and he didn’t care for it in the least.

“Aye! Cor, where’s Kerga?” The Harbor Master yelled.

A short, slim woman strode over. She glanced Tier’s way and dismissed him, focusing on the Harbor Master.

“She’s in her cabin, restin. Why?” The woman’s voice was a soft, an oddly familiar burr. Tier frowned, staring at her hard. Were her dark hair longer, her eyes a lighter gray, she could be Xin’s twin or older sister. He swallowed, glancing back at the Harbor Master.

“Just to Tyrsleth, Cor. I’ll pay,”

“Wait,” Tier started, the man shook his head.

“Yer not gonna argue me out of it, Tier. I owe ye, lad.”

Tier hissed a curse, shaking his head. The woman was staring at him, her eyes narrow.

“Tier?” Her voice hard.

“Cor, take us to the captain lass. I’ll explain below deck.” He waggled a finger at Tier. “No arguments, either.”

 

Captain Kerga was a tall woman with a cap of bright red curls and vivid blue eyes. She listened to what the Harbor Master was proposing while eying Tier. There was something about the way she watched him that made him uneasy. The silence stretched as she drummed her fingers on the surface of her desk.

“That’s a hefty cut you’re takin, Vourum.”

The man shrugged, hand clamped on Tier’s shoulder. “You know, as do I, why this is important.” He looked at Tier. “In some circles yer a martyr.”

Tier shook his head. “Crazy.”

“In others a hero.” Kerga leaned back, propping her booted feet on the desk. “Officially yer a traitor.”

“I am no traitor.” Tier snarled. Kerga smiled.

“That remains to be seen.” She stretched, hands behind her head, staring up at the ornately carved beams overhead. “Lets say I agree, the ships patrolling the coast,”

“As far as everyone is concerned, he’s dead.” Cor spoke up. She’d been leaning against one wall, fiddling with a rope. “If there were any whispers that he might have escaped, it would spread like wildfire in the dry grass.”

“True. Depending on who knows.” Kerga leaned forward, the legs of her chair hitting the floor with a loud thump. “I’ll not put my crew, nor my ship at risk, understand? First sign that you’re bringing trouble, yer overboard I dunna care how far from land we are.”

“Understood.” Tier’s heart was pounding in his ears.

“Discretion, Kerga.” The Harbor Master said quickly.

“I’m not a dunce, Vourum.” Her eyes flickered towards Cor. Tier didn’t dare look towards the slim woman.

“My apologies, I never meant to imply you were.” The Harbor Master tossed her a small bag and turned to Tier. “I’ve a friend up in Tyrsleth, Moya. She’ll put you up while you figure what yer gonna do next.”

“Why?” Tier asked, ignoring the two women.

“Why what?”

“Why, this?”

“I said I owed ya, more than you’ll ever realize.” He gave a gap-toothed grin and held out his hand for a handshake. Tier hesitated before taking his hand. On the back of his hand was a pale blue filigree tattoo that reminded Tier of glyph drawings. “Yer very existence is a slap in the face of that dead-eyed bitch. I like being a part of that.” The Harbor Master bowed low. “Good luck.”

Tier watched him leave before turning to the women catching the amused look they exchanged.

“Find him a space Cor.” Kerga said, pulling over some papers. “I’ve got some paperwork to catch up on.”

Cor nodded, glanced at Tier, and motioned him to follow her.

“We don’t usually take passengers, don’t have any special quarters for em. There’s a bit of a small space you can use.” She glanced at him.

“How long does it usually take to reach Tyrsleth?” Tier asked as they went down the steep steps into the belly of the ship.

“Few weeks, if weather is good, but we have a couple stops between here and there.” She half turned to him. “While we’re in Port, here or further north, stay below deck. It’d be safer that way.”

Tier inclined his head. What else could he do? His life was in their hands.

~*~

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Chapter 28                                Table of Contents                  Chapter 30

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