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 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 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 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 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 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 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 14

This entry is part 15 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.

 

Chapter 14

Twisted pillars of metal stuck out of a mound of huge boulders. At its base, shadowed by debris, was a collection of blackened and burned buildings, surrounded by a broken wooden fence. The old gate lay on the ground, half covered by dust and dirt. An old and tattered Nekarian flag fluttered in the mild breeze, hanging from a leaning pole stabbed into a pile of blackened bones just inside the gate.

Tier pulled his horse to a stop, staring at the bones.

“It looks like Chiron forgot a few details.” He murmured. He looked at Xin. She was shaking her head. “He said nothing about this.”

“They flattened the village, didn’t they?” Xin asked softly.

Tier looked away, unable to meet her eyes, and dismounted. He needed to take a closer look. He went cautiously around the bones, not wanting to disturb them. He didn’t see any wisps, but he felt them, watching. Waiting.

“Tier, why would Chiron do this?” Rale’s voice was loud in the eerie silence.

“Why does Chiron do anything?” He glanced back. Rale and Xin were leading the horses through the gate, following Tier’s path. Tier saw a movement in the rocks beyond them. The boy was still following them. He chuckled and turned back to the village, carefully moving through the single street.

At the far end of the street was the local small temple. A shrine to the gods, and the only building untouched by fire. A parchment was nailed to the door. The sound of gravel beneath his feet was loud in his ears. He hesitated, when he reached it, glancing around. No wisps. No ghosts. He shook off his unease and straightened out the faded and partially rolling parchment. He frowned, scanning over the old edict.

“What does it say?” Xin asked at his elbow. He glanced down at her, she was facing the street.

“Just a decree that the Seeress ordered this village closed.” He stumbled over the last word and looked around at the burned out huts and finally at the distant pile of bones. “I don’t understand it. The canyon folk are poor, though their work in the mines made many a merchant rich.”

“Perhaps there was an uprising.” Rale suggested.

Tier shrugged. “I don’t recall hearing anything. According to Chiron they were descendants of the Air elementals. That rubble is what’s left of Hyrfett.”

“That’s why.” Xin said looking up at him. “She wanted to get rid of anyone who might be an air elemental.”

“And then send him to go locate one?” Rale asked. “Doesn’t make sense.”

Tier moved down the steps of the small temple and made his way towards the pile of bones. He felt a whisper of power being used. He turned scanning the buildings. It wasn’t the earth boy when he’d used his ability, it felt solid. This barely brushed against his mind. He felt it again, further away, then it faded.

“Tier?” Xin touched his arm. “What is it?”

He shook his head. “Thought I,” he stopped. In the doorway of one of the burned out huts stood the pale outline of a child. Tier swallowed. The outline got thicker, the form more solid. It was a little girl, watching him. Her ghostly hair moving in the wind. “Thought I heard something.”

Xin narrowed her eyes and glanced towards the house. “Do you,”

“No.” he said curtly and strode back towards the horses. He needed to get out of this place. The longer they were there, the greater chance for him to see the souls of those massacred. Neither Rale nor Xin argued with him about heading towards the crossroads further south.

“You can travel openly with us and get a share of our provisions or creep behind us like a wild animal taking our scraps. It’s your choice.” He called to the boy hiding in the ruins. There was no reply, no sound and Tier shrugged, pulling himself up on his horse.

He led them back south towards the distant crossroads and away from the little ghost girl who still watched him from the door of the house.

 

 

The crossroads was a dry dusty square with old iron cages hanging from a set of large, man-made wooden frames. There were remains of people still in the cages and Xin would have preferred to keep going but Tier called a halt, voice sharp. Rale said a few choice words in Nekarian as he dismounted and for a moment Xin’s breath caught. Tier glared at him but said nothing.

Xin went about helping them set up camp listening as they snapped back and forth. Rale finally snarled something and went towards the cages, muttering under his breath. Xin took a deep breath and went over to Tier who was glaring after his cousin.

“You are being a total ass, you know that?” She said.

He looked at her. “I am, am I?”

“You’ve been short with him,” she jerked her head towards Rale. “Since we left the burned out village.” he snorted and turned to leave but she grabbed his arm. “Oh no, don’t go walking away. You saw something, what?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Tier,”

“It has no bearing with right now.”

She shook her head. “You are an awful liar.”

He ran his hand through his hair not meeting her eyes. “There was a ghost child just watching us. Those people were poor, there was no uprising, they were murdered in their sleep.”

Xin let her hand drop. “It wasn’t your doing, Tier, it’s not your fault.”

His lips pressed together. “No, but it was men like me who did it. I don’t think any of them questioned it. Not a single one.” He met her gaze before turning and walking away.

Xin watched him for a moment, then went to the small simple fire and sat, staring at the flames.

 

Tier stirred the fire, glancing over at his companions. Rale was facing away from the fire and snoring. Xin was facing the fire, sleeping. He stood, glancing out at the darkness that was pressed against the firelight. He didn’t see any spirits, for once, but he did see the huddled shape just beyond the ring of firelight. He lifted the water skin shaking it lightly, the water sloshed loud in the still silence.

“You must be thirsty.” He said softly, not wanting to wake the others.

No sound though he was certain the boy was listening.

“We won’t hurt you. I’d like to talk to you.” Movement, the child crept closer.

“Why?” the voice was rough, cracked.

Tier set the water down and moved closer to the fire where he sat, legs crossed staring at the shadows beyond the wall of darkness.

“I have never met an Earth Elemental before.” Tier admitted. “I was told there were none.”

The boy crept into the light, picking up the water skin with trembling hands. He drank quickly, throat moving with each swallow. Water dribbled from the corner of his mouth. When he lowered it Tier got a good look at the boy’s face. Swollen, dark bruises under his skin. One eye was swollen shut and his nose looked broken and he was studying Tier as much as Tier was studying him.

“We have to hide.” The boy said, dropping to a crouch.

“How’d they discover you?”

“Rocks falling.” The boy looked down, trailing his fingers in the dirt. “Don’t wanna talk about it.” He glanced to Tier’s right then back. “Where are you going?”

“Not sure.” Tier admitted. “Trying to decide. I’m supposed to find an Air Elemental and a Fire Elemental.”

“The Air Elementals fled to Sandau.”

Tier blinked several times. “What?”

“Legends. Nekar marched against Hyrfett and those who survived, fled to Sandau. At least that’s what the elders said, when the priests weren’t around. They say the Fire Lords of Sandau protected them.”

Tier stared, dumbfounded. “So outside of Nekar, this is common knowledge?” he wasn’t directing the question at the boy, but Geb nodded.

“The elders believe the power to move the rocks comes from evil spirits.” Geb leaned forward. “They believe it will destroy the world if it is used, that it will release the ancient demons from slumber.”

“The spirits have nothing to do with those powers.” Tier said, his mind running in circles. What the hell was he going to do?

“It’s like breathing.” The boy held out his hand and a group of small pebbles floated up, a solid rumble of power rippled across Tier’s mind as the pebbles spun in a slow circle.

“Amazing.”

The pebbles dropped with a clatter and the boy looked at him startled. “Just pebbles…”

“And I have to actually reach down and pick them up.” He did so, scooping a small handful of little rocks.

The boy shrugged glancing away. Tier followed his gaze and smiled. Xin.

“She can do amazing things with water.” The boy said, voice hushed. He looked at Tier guiltily. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“She harbors no ill will against you.” Tier said.

Geb nodded, yawning. Tier stood and went to his pack. He turned towards the boy, handing him his cloak.

“Go lay down, get some rest. It’s been a long day.”

The boy looked at the cloak then back up at Tier. “Thank you.”

Tier shrugged settling on his sleeping roll. It was a long time before he was able to get to sleep.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, Aug 19th.

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 13

This entry is part 14 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.

 

Chapter 13

The canyons were a maze of narrow passages winding through rock. Etched out by rivers, ages past, they’d always unnerved him as a youth. Tier followed the footprints in the dirt, trying not to think too hard about what he did. If he gave it too much thought, he’d make himself go insane.

The boy’s trail led them along a narrow path that led down into a steep ravine. Tier halted, considering. The boy’s abilities might have killed someone. Tier dismounted, staring towards the edge of the ledge. They’d need to be careful. Tier didn’t look at Rale and Xin when they caught up. They were full of questions and he had no answers.

“What did you just do?” Rale demanded, dismounting. “That,”

“We don’t have time to discuss it.” Tier crouched near the edge of the ledge, staring down at the river winding between pillars of stone far below. The path down was a paler rock than the surrounding stones, and crisscrossed, back and forth down to the ravine floor. He frowned, stood and stepped back. Power rippled across his mind. A loud crack echoed through the canyons and the path broke from the cliff wall, tumbling to the ravine floor below.

“I glad you weren’t on that!” Xin said, touching his arm. She glanced down into the ravine.

“Me too.” Tier frowned.

“He’s right by the river.” She looked back at Tier. “Is there another way down?”

“I don’t know.” Tier scanned the area. There were other high canyon passages. “This place is a maze.”

Xin nodded and stretched her hands out, palms down. Tier watched, trickling power, a whisper in his head, accompanied her hand gestures. She raised her hands up over her head, rotating her hands till they were palm up. A thin stream of water lifted crept upwards.  She spread her fingers and the water gained a flat mushroom-like top. Xin nodded, glancing at him.

“What are you doing?” Rale asked, his voice hushed. She grinned and clenched her hands into fists. There was an odd crackling sound and Tier realized the water hardened into thick ice that glistened under the sun.

“Watch my horse will you?” She didn’t wait for an answer, instead stepping onto the flat ice and lowered her hands. The water platform sank back down to the ravine.

Tier swore.

“Did you know she could do that?” Rale whispered.

“No.” Tier shook his head. “No I didn’t.”

 

Xin’s heart pounded as she stepped from the ice platform onto the narrow sandy bank. The boy backed up, his mouth open in a perfect ‘o’. His ebony skin glistened under the sunlight, his tight, curly hair filthy and twig ridden.

Xin eyed him, noting the blood dripping from a split lip and his left eye so swollen she doubted he could see out of it. He crouched, baring his teeth like an animal and growling.

“Can you speak Dhaul? Or Common Nekar?” Xin asked. She stayed near the water, feeling the current.

The boy held out his hand, a large rock wobbled and lifted. He made a fist and the rock shot towards her. She pulled water from the river, knocking it aside before it hit her face. The water and rock hit the cliff, the rock clattering to the sand.

Xin directed another stream of water towards the child, knocking him into the water. She raised her hands, the water lifted him out of the river and set him back on the river bank. She pulled all the water from his ragged clothes, removing dirt, blood, and debris. When she stepped back, she struggled to catch her breath. The boy lifted his hands, turning them back and forth, his eyes wide

“I don’t want to hurt you. Do you understand?” Xin tried again, hoping he wouldn’t try to fight anymore. She was tired, she’d never used her abilities in this way.

The boy sneered and crouched, fists in front of him. He said something, his words unfamiliar to her.

“I don’t understand.” She spread her hands out in front of her, hoping it wasn’t threatening to him. He pointed to the water and said something else, punctuating each word with a stomp that sent ripples through the ground.

“That man up there just saved your life.” Xin said. “He also saved mine. The least you can do is thank him.”

Pebbles lifted from the ground, wobbling, and the boy snarled. Xin shook her head, walking away from the boy, along the river.

“He’s on a mission for the Seeress of Nekar.” She said glancing over her shoulder. “She wants him to find elementals.” A pebble was flung her way. She directed water between her and it, freezing and dragging the pebble back to the river. She turned and looked at the boy. “Nice try.”

Pebbles began flying in her direction and she moved a wall of water between her and the boy, freezing it as the pebbles hit it. A larger rock smashed through the ice and Xin leapt out of the way, landing hard on the sand.

She stood up, lifted her hands, and directed the water to coil around the boy. A stone flew her way and she didn’t move fast enough. It glanced off her forehead and she stumbled, stunned and dizzy, the water splashing. She touched her temple, and looked at her fingers. Crimson. She wiped her fingers on her tunic. Water erupted from the river, wound around the kid and froze. She stomped over to him glaring.

“I’m done being nice.” She snapped.

“Are you gonna kill me now?” He spoke common Nekarian, his voice cracked and low.

Xin blinked several times. Her anger faded and her heart twisting. This was just a child after all. “You can speak a language I understand.”

He said nothing, but two large tears dripped down his cheek.

“Can you make another walkway come down from the cliffs up there?”

He closed his one good eye.

“No one is going to kill you.” She lowered him down and pushed the water back to the river. He looked up blinking.

“My people,”

“Tier ran them off.” Xin glanced up the cliff side, far above Tier and Rale waited. She swallowed looking back at the boy.

“The big man?”

Xin nodded and wiped her face with her hand, staring at the smear of red on her fingers.

“I’m sorry.” the child crept backwards. Xin eyed him, tired.

“What is your name?”

He looked down, using his long toes to make paths in the dirt.

“I can’t just call you boy.”

“Geb.” He said glancing up at her. “I have no family name.”

“Earth shaper Geb, I am Xin.” She held out her hand. The boy looked at her hand then looked up at her. She lowered it. “Okay. The man who stopped your people, he was sent on a mission to find elementals.”

“Why?”

“He wasn’t told.”

The boy sneered at her. “And you want me to join you?”

She studied him. He was older than she first thought he was, though small and thin. Twelve maybe? Ten? “How old are you?”

He said nothing but held out his hand. Xin took a step back, fighting her aching head. She wasn’t sure she could do another battle. Around them the small rocks began to shift and bounce on the ground. From the cliff face a wide pathway shot out, winding back and forth. Xin stared at it and looked down at Geb.

“Thank you. I owe them my life. That is why I go with them. They haven’t harmed me in any way.”

Geb swallowed, running a boney hand over his face. Xin wanted to hand him her rations, but they were in her pack, on her horse. It was criminal how thin he was. “I don’t believe you.”

“Then stay.” Xin turned and stepped on the stone, glancing over her shoulder. “You’ll be lonely down here, but if that’s what you prefer, then good day.”

 

She picked her way up the steep slope, aware that Geb was following her a discrete distance behind. She didn’t look behind her until she stepped onto the ledge, but she couldn’t see the boy. Tier gripped her arm pulling her from the ledge edge.

“Next time warn us before you do something like that.” His voice odd. He pressed a cloth against her temple. “That looks nasty.”

“I didn’t have time to warn you.” She glanced at the boy who was creeping up the path poking over the cliff, but Tier put his hand under her chin making her look back at him as he dabbed at the wound. She scowled. “It’s not deep!”

“It’s still bleeding bad.” Rale handed Tier another bandage. Xin batted at them both, scowling.

“I’m fine.” She met Tier’s narrow gaze.

“The boy?”

“His name is Geb. He was panicking.” She glanced back towards the ledge. She couldn’t see him, though she felt he was there.

“How badly was he injured?” Tier asked gruffly, stepping back.

“Busted lip, one eye looks swollen shut, and thin. Tier, he looked almost skeletal.” She looked back towards the ledge. “He didn’t seem interested in coming with us.”

“We can leave some of the rations and water,” Rale said, shuffling through the bags.

“Good idea.” Tier went to his own pack and pulled out a spare tunic. “Didn’t look like he had many clothes either. It gets cold out here at night.”

Xin turned towards the ledge, hoping to see the boy.

“The canyons are no place to stay.” Tier called.

“There are hiding places.” The boy growled back, though he was still hidden.

“Aside from what we’ll leave behind, there’s no food, very little water,” Tier crouched, setting the folded tunic on the ground and taking the water skin and rations from Rale. “We have more, are traveling on to other safer places. You’d have a better chance with us than without.”

“You have a great gift!” Rale added. “I’d like to see more of what you can do.”

A hiss drifted from the rocks, but the boy didn’t show himself.

Tier turned, expression thoughtful. “Let’s give him space. The water and food won’t last long. If we backtrack we’ll find the old road. If Chiron’s maps were right, it should lead straight to Hyrfett.” He looked at Xin. “Do you need to sit down before we continue?”

“I’m fine Tier, just tired. Hey!” Hands on her waist, he lifted her up. She swung her leg over her horse’s back, grabbing at its mane, getting herself settled. When she looked back, Tier was walking back to where his horse waited patiently.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, Aug 14th.

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 12

This entry is part 13 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.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

To Xin’s relief, Lord Chiron was absent from the courtyard when they gathered in the cool pre-dawn. Lady Vieno stood serenely at the base of the steps. Her eyes sad, though she smiled at Xin.

“There are rumors from the south, that there are tribal people gathering near the canyons.” She said, turning to Tier. He nodded, tightening the girth of one of the horse’s saddles.

“Any idea why?” Rale asked.

“There were whispers about an Earth Elemental.” Vieno shook her head. “I don’t believe it though. More likely there is some tribal skirmish.”

“Elementals are extinct, right?” Rale grinned at her.

“Perhaps.” Vieno’s smile faded. “When I was a child I saw an Earth Elemental lift a wall of rock between her and some attackers.”

“What happened to her?” Tier asked.

“She was executed.” Vieno said shortly. She handed him several water skins. “Stay on the main roads, avoid the tribal people. They have gotten very aggressive in recent years.”

“Anything else?”

“Just visit more often.” Vieno gave a low bow and smiled again at Xin before turning and making her way up the wide steps.

They filed out of the courtyard in silence, walking through the dingy city streets towards the tall gates. Once they left the city, making their way along the well-worn dusty path Rale called a halt.

He eyed Tier. “You’re planning on going to the old town, aren’t you?”

“Do you want to go back to the Seeress and tell her that we heard a rumor of an Earth Elemental but didn’t look into it?”

The silence stretched. Rale stared off towards the distant cliffs and swore under his breath.

“I didn’t think so.” Tier turned his horse back around and led them down another narrower path. Xin and Rale exchanged dubious looks but followed. Scrub-brush and priest-trees dotted the sandy landscape, the branches of the priest trees reached up towards the clear blue sky, a plea perhaps for water? She felt no moisture, no call of water. They picked their way along the old path, making their way cautiously through old gullys and a dried up river bed.

Distance was tricky. What looked like it should have only taken a few hours at most to reach the mountains, by nightfall the mountains loomed in the distance, and Tier called a halt.

“We should reach it by midday tomorrow.” He dismounted.

“How does anyone survive in this place?” Xin asked, following his lead. They talked as they prepared the small camp; a small clearing with some deadwood around the edges.

“How? Hells with how, why? What’s here?” Rale indicated the dried scraggly brush. “The only water controlled by Chiron, or whoever sits as Governor. Can’t grow food, why would anyone bother?”

“Gold.” Tier pointed towards the mountains. “There’s gold and other rare minerals in the mountains. It costs to keep the Empire running. Delebeg has some of the richest mines in the world.”

Xin shook her head. “The pursuit of gold, what a waste. Personally I’d like a nice dip in a stream.”

“The river used to wind all the way to the northwest canyons.” Tier said. “When I was here as a youth, we went up to the dried out lake. I remember Vieno talking about how the lake dried up during the war of the Elementals.”

“I heard her say that once the whole Delebeg region was a forest too. Ages ago.” Rale looked at Xin. “In the center of the city is a huge tree stump, as big as a house.”

“Old legends say that when the tree sprouts again, Delebeg will be freed of the empire.” Tier snorted. “One hears all sorts of odd things when one is creeping through hidden passages.”

“I thought those passageways were just rumor!” Rale whistled. “Wish I’d known that before we left.”

“I’m sure you do. I found them after arriving here.” Tier grinned. “I was a bit troublesome when I got here, I was trying to find a ways out of the palace.”

“Why were you sent up here?” Xin asked.

“Maen and I wouldn’t stop fighting, and father got tired of having to separate us.” Tier rubbed the bridge of his nose, sheepishly. “It got a little bit violent.”

“I heard there was some sort of knife fight.” Rale commented.

“There was that too.” Tier shrugged. “I told you, we never got along.”

 

It took her a long time to finally fall asleep, the heat of the day had turned to a bone chilling night. She dreamed of a river winding through the Delebeg valley. It was not the dry and dead desert, instead it was a lush forest. In the center of the valley towered a tree, taller than any she’d seen before. There was a loud, steady pounding, like a heartbeat. And with each strike the land changed. From green to brown, and the tree whithered.

She half sat up, blinking blearily towards the fire. The pounding didn’t cease with her waking. She heard it, in the distance.

“What is that?” She startled herself asking it aloud.

“They’re a long ways away, Xin.” Tier said. He stood on the edge of the circle of firelight, facing the dark. The firelight glinted off his sword. “You might as well go back to sleep.”

She could hear yelling in the distance, almost yipping like wild dogs. “I don’t know that I can with that. Do you know what they are saying?

“No.” He looked her way, the shadows hiding his features, giving him a far older look. “They resist most interaction with the Empire, except for the Seeress and her priests.”

“So they adhere to her laws.” She frowned.

“Usually.” He looked back into the dark. “There hasn’t been an uprising in recent years, that I’ve heard about, though Chiron complained about them.”

“I don’t like Chiron. He’s greasy.” Xin admitted.

Tier chuckled. “He is.” The drums pounded on. “Try to get back to sleep.”

 

The village was a collection of mud huts, divided by the road that led to the cliffs. Blocking the road, garbed in an assortment of rags and leather, were villagers in a circle around something huddled on the ground. The villagers parted, allowing them to pass, though they glared at them. Xin swallowed, eyes locked on the small figure on the ground. A child. They’d encircled a child.

A thin, wiry man carrying a spear decorated with bones and feathers, stepped between Tier and the child. He pointed the spear at Tier, rattling something off in in a language she couldn’t understand. She looked sharply at Tier who pointed at the man then towards the scrub brush.

The man shook his spear, feathers and bones rattling loudly, yelling.

“Tier this isn’t a good situation.” Rale hissed.

“He’s a child, Rale.” Tier pointed at the huddled form. “We can’t let them kill him, elemental or not.”

The child pushed up, crouching low, dark eyes staring at them. He flung his arm up. Solid rock shot up from the ground, leaving a crater, and flew through the air towards the assembled. The crowd scattered, screaming. Xin’s horse jerked and she hit the ground, the air in her lungs whooshing out. She gasped rolling to one side as the boy ran down the old street towards the narrow opening in the cliffs that led to the canyons.

The tribal people were yelling around her and Xin was hauled to her feet.

“You hurt?” Tier’s voice was loud against her ear.

“I’m fine. He ducked into the canyons.” She looked around, Rale had her horse and Tier’s and was still mounted. Tier had drawn his sword and jerked his head towards her horse.

“Get ready to ride.”

She nodded, shaking as she pulled herself back up on her horse. Tier backed up slowly.

“Your interference has cost us dearly.” The old man hobbled towards them. Tier towered over the man, pointing his sword at him.

“From this point on this is an Imperial matter.” Tier’s voice was low but the man in front blinked several times, his body weaving back and forth. “The road is Imperial territory and you and your people are trespassing. Be gone.” The last two words were accompanied by a rolling power, a low whisper that skittered across Xin’s senses. It wasn’t directed at her, rather the group watching them, but it made her tremble. Imperials weren’t supposed to have that kind of power. The tribesmen’s eyes glazed and they turned and stumbled out into the brush.

Xin’s horse sidestepped uneasily and she glanced at Rale who was slowly shaking his head, eyes wide.

“How the hell?” Rale stared at Tier.

“Let’s go.” Tier said curtly, remounting. He turned his horse and took off at a rolling canter, following the child’s path. Xin and Rale exchanged stunned looks.

“How did he do that?” She whispered.

“I have no idea.”

~*~

 

The next chapter will be posted Tues, Aug 5th.

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!

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 11

This entry is part 12 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.

 

 Chapter 11

“She said you’re on a mission for the Seeress.” Vieno said, her voice low. Tier glanced towards her then back to his bags.

“I am.” He closed his travel bag, meeting her eyes. “There wasn’t an option to turn her down.”

“Why you?” Vieno clasped her hands together, shaking her head. “No, what goes on in the mind of the Seeress is known only to her. What has she sent you for?”

“Vieno,”

“Tier.”

Tier glanced around the room. It looked secure, but Chiron’s home was riddled with old passages and hidden niches. There could be any number of listeners. He held out his hands, Vieno nodded, moving over to the wall, pressing her palm against the stucco.

“There are old secrets, some that should never be overheard.” Vieno met his eyes. Light flared up under her palm, streaking out on either side, bathing the room in a soft red glow. She looked up at him, her lip twitching.

“How did you do that?” He asked. She shook her head.

“It would take too long to explain. What has the Seeress asked you to do?”

“She ordered me to locate elementals.”

“What?”

“And bring them back to her to help mend the world.” Tier ran a hand through his hair.

“Mend the world?”

“That’s what she said.” Tier felt his stomach twist. Now, miles away from the seeress it felt a very thin explanation. Vieno paced slowly not meeting his eyes.

“She wiped out the elementals, generations ago.” She said. “There’s another reason she wants you to bring them to her. It’s impossible, there are no more.”

“That’s what I thought.” Tier said slowly. Vieno halted and looked at him. Her eyes widened as it struck her. She nodded.

“I see.” Vieno pressed her fingers together in front of her.

“I can’t figure out what I’m missing.” He admitted.

“She sent you to Dhaul?” Vieno scowled.

“Aye. But gave us no indication as to where we needed to go next. We figured that the earth shapers were originally from this area, so we came here. Not sure where to go from here though.”

“It’s futile, Tier. There have not been reports of Earth Shapers since I was a child. And as far as I know there are no more air weavers.” Vieno’s eyes narrowed. “The fire wielders were all in the Sandau and plains region, as far as I know there are none.”

“There were rumors in Jacktor that the Lord of Sandau is a fire lord.”

Vieno waved her hand, shaking her head. “No, we would have heard such news here. There’s something she didn’t tell you.”

“I worry that this isn’t,” he hesitated. “The honorable path.”

“You question her?” Vieno asked softly.

Tier swallowed. “Not exactly.”

“One can be loyal to Nekar, but not to her, you know.” She said it softly. Tier stared at her, the words echoing in his head.

“She is Nekar.” He murmured.

“I don’t believe that. And neither do you.”

“Just saying that can get me killed, Vieno.”

“Serving her, will get you killed.” She touched his hand.

“Perhaps. I doubt that she’d call on the Imperial household just to kill me off though.” Tier pointed out.

Vieno inclined her head. “This is true.” She pressed her hand against the wall again and the color faded. “Sleep well, dear one.”

She was gone before he could say goodnight.

 

Vieno hurried through the old city, stepping gingerly over sprawled drunks and piles of rubbish, her mind whirring. She barely glanced at the archway she ducked beneath, though she paused, looking around once before sliding behind the ragged cloth that hung over the doorway. Two men inside stood, startled and hastily bowed.

“Lady Vieno, we weren’t expecting,”

“Do you have a runner available?” She asked. She didn’t have much time, her absence couldn’t be noticed.

“Yes my lady, but,”

“I need you to send this to Lorn.” She held out a small black feather. Both men frowned.

“A feather?”

“The recipient will know its meaning.” She pierced the men with a cold look. “Can your runner leave now?”

“Of course I can!” A slender man stepped into the room from the hall, bowing deeply. He took the feather from her staring at it with narrow eyes before looking at her. “It cracks?”

“Slightly. You have a name?”

“Anil, my lady. At your service.” He bowed again. Vieno smiled. Yes, this one would do nicely. “This must be delivered to,” He held out his hand.

“Ambassador Xeresel.” Vieno clasped her hands in front of her. “It is vital you get this to him, as quickly as possible.”

He tucked the feather into a bag which he hung on his belt.

“When you return, report to me directly at the palace.”

“Yes my lady.” He gave his fellows a salute, bowed again to Vieno, and ducked out the door.

Vieno nodded, glancing at the two startled men. “You didn’t see me.”

“Of course not, my lady.” They sat, backs to the doorway.

She slipped from the room, glancing around. Anil was nowhere to be seen. She took a deep breath and began to make her way back to the palace.

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 31st.

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. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 10

This entry is part 11 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.

 

Chapter 10

“I behaved poorly, your highness, I beg your forgiveness.” Lord Chiron said.

“You were drunk.” Tier shrugged, not looking up from the stack of maps he was going through. He had little patience for the man. “It happens.”

“I trust your traveling companion is not too upset?”

Tier lifted an old, worn parchment. “If your wife hadn’t dropped her food on you, Xin would’ve.” He glanced up at Chiron, smiling. “You deserved it cousin.”

“Indeed.” Chiron gritted out. Tier ignored his glare, shuffling through the collection of maps and scrolls. “I’m not entirely sure I understand what you are looking for. You’ve never been an academic type.”

Tier leaned back, drumming his fingers on the table. “The Seeress,” He hesitated. Chiron didn’t need the details. “Asked me to look into something for her, however she was vague on some of the details. Sandau was our next planned stop, but if your military advisers were correct,”

“They are.” Chiron snapped. “The Emperor is aware of the situation and told us to take the fort anyways!”

“Then Sandau is out of the question.” Tier ignored Chiron’s grumbling. “I saw a map in the south, showing cities I’ve never seen before.”

“There were northern territories, once we traded with them, if history is to be believed. There has not been trade or any kind of communication with those territories in generations.” Chiron pulled a map from the stack of parchments Tier hadn’t gotten to. “Look,” he set the map in front of Tier. “Some say they were elemental run cities. Others say they were fortresses of the great dragons. I think they’re naught but ruin.”

Tier peered at the map, beyond the canyons to the north, several large marks, the names faded and worn.

“Absolutely infuriating. What we need is a good assassin to take out that damned Corrin and the others that are keeping our forces from taking the fort.” Chiron was pacing.

“I don’t know that a commander from a backwater country like Sandau would be, in father’s eyes, worth sending an assassin.” Tier pointed out.

“That’s what you said yesterday.” Chiron paused by the window looking out. “I hardly think Sandau a backwater country, and I think that the Emperor should rethink our position. It is a dangerous nation, waiting for a moment of weakness. Delebeg is not the strongest territory of the Empire. If Sandau decided to move in our direction,” he held out his hands.

“Then the might of the Empire would be brought down on their asses.” Tier shrugged it off. He’d sat in Chiron’s war meeting, his suggestions, based off of his own experiences were ignored.

“On three separate occasions I was ordered to take the damn fort. Each time Corrin managed a minor miracle and we find ourselves slinking back, tail tucked between our legs.” Chiron sipped at a glass of the purple wine he favored. “I received several letters, from the Emperor and one from the Seeress herself, telling me to take the damned fort.” He glared at Tier. “Each time that bitch out-thinks Delebeg’s finest.”

Tier bit the inside of his lip, restraining himself. He wanted to get out of Delebeg, out of the heat and the acid atmosphere, away from his damnable cousin.

“I gave my advice, yesterday. It’s not my problem.” He tapped the map, tired of talk of the fort. We’ll go through the canyons and make for one of those old cities.” He murmured, gut twisting. “What city is this?”

“The locals called it Hyrfett.” Chiron went back to the arched window, staring down at the gardens through the white lattice work. “Once Delebeg was the capital of the Earth Elementals. Air Weavers, or floaters, had a city suspended above the canyon.”

“I’ve never heard of it.” Tier regarded Chiron in surprise. He’d never thought that Chiron would have been well versed in any kind of folklore.

“Neither had I till we chased a band of ruffians into the canyons in the early days of my being sentenced here. We found a village at the base of a massive rubble pile. The villagers said the last stand of the Air Weavers was made there. Said the Nekarian army took out the rock supports with false fire in the middle of the night and collapsed the whole damn thing.” He sipped from his wineglass and shook his head. “I think taking a look at that rubble is worth it.”

“I’m not really one for architecture.” Tier stood and joined Chiron by the window, glancing down at the private gardens below. He tensed, following Chiron’s gaze. Xin sat beside one of the fountains, elbow on the marble staring at the water looking bored. She was surrounded by the other ladies of the household, with Vieno hovering nearby. She wore a dress similar to the one at dinner, though this was a pale blue. Her hair hung loose, the light shining off it gave a hint of blue. She straightened and stood, responding to something Vieno said.

“She is exquisite, cousin. I dare say she held the dining hall captivated last night.” Chiron’s voice was admiring. Tier forced a smile, unable to tear his eyes from her as she edged away from the other women. “Dhaulain I am guessing?”

“Yes.” Tier went to the liquor board, pouring a small glass of brandy. He didn’t drink often, too easy to drink too much, but he had to do something. He rejoined Chiron at the window.

“Whose bed does she grace?” Chiron asked archly. “Yours? Or Rale’s?”

“Neither.” Tier gritted his teeth, setting the brandy down on the windowsill untouched. “Why do you ask, you’re married.”

“That hasn’t stopped me before.” Chiron sipped again from his wineglass. “She should be taught the respect of her betters, you know.”

Tier took a deep breath fighting the urge to shove Chiron’s wineglass down his throat, or up his ass. “The only one to be teaching her that lesson would be me.” He forced his voice to be cold, as an Imperial should be.

Chiron looked at him startled, a mocking smile flickered at his lips. “Can I consider this a claim, cousin?”

“Consider it whatever you want to, Lord Chiron. I will not restrain myself from taking off your hand if you touch her.” Tier stepped forward, shamelessly using his heavier frame to crowd Chiron, forcing the other man to step back.

Chiron’s eyes widened, jaw clenched. “Fancy you finding interest in a slip of a peasant slut.” he spat the last and Tier struggled with a sudden surge of rage. He forced himself to take a deep breath.

“You have presumed much, in this short time, and have tried my patience.” Tier gritted out. “Even in the Imperial War College in Lorn, the complaints of the women of your household have been heard. We’re guests, passing through on a mission that is none of your business. If you want to pursue something, pursue reconciliation with your wife. It might make your bedroom life better. You go near Xin, I won’t stop myself. Got it?”

Blood drained from Chiron’s face and he swallowed several times. “Yes, your highness.” he finally croaked out.

Tier studied him before turning back to the table and its stack of letters and things. “We’ll dine in my quarters this eve, to save you the hassle.” Tier locked eyes on his cousin. “Is that acceptable?”

“Of course, your Highness.” Chiron spoke through gritted teeth. “Whatever you desire.”

Tier tucked the map into his vest and left. He needed to move, get some fresh, non-dry air. And to get space between him and that sniveling worm.

 

The women of Chiron’s household had long decided she was not interesting. Their talk, consisting of court and household gossip and clothing styles, bored Xin to the core. She considered flicking some water at them, but there were too many eyes and she couldn’t risk exposure. Instead she half listened to their talk, watching the ripples in the water and the small flying insects that came to drink. She looked up when they fell silent and smiled. Tier barely acknowledged them, nodding at Vieno.

“We need to talk.” He motioned the walking path that wound through the garden. Xin was relieved to see him. He was a rock in a sea of uncertainty.

“Problems?” She peered up at him.

“Not exactly.”

She nodded tensing slightly when he rested his hand on her lower back guiding her past whispering women and down the tree lined walkway. The heat from his palm, his arm brushing her side and shoulder made her heart pound. It annoyed her to have such reactions to him. Rale didn’t send her heart pounding, nor did he grace her dreams at night. Tier was an imperial prince, for all she knew he was married or betrothed to some fine noblewoman. She had to keep that in mind. But it was hard to remember when the slightest touch sent her thoughts into a tailspin.

“Something wrong?” She asked, glancing up at him. She could see the tension in his face, feel it through his touch. Once they got a distance from the fountain he stepped away, pacing in the small clearing. Fear filled her. “Did my outburst cause you trouble?”

“No.” He said quickly, staring at her. “Not at all.” His dark eyes intense, several times he looked as if her were about to speak before he sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose. Xin bit her cheek to keep from smiling, he looked almost flustered. “We’ll be leaving in the morning. I gave Chiron orders to allow our to dine in my quarters. Less formal, fewer eyes.”

“Fewer food fights?” Xin asked, snickering. He chuckled. “Will we be heading to Sandau then?”

“We’ll discuss it at dinner.” He sank onto the bench. “There are to many mice here.”

Xin blinked and nodded, of course, spies. “Things aren’t what they seem here, are they?”

“Nothing is. No matter where you go.” He shrugged. “I want to get back to south.”

Xin swallowed. “Homesick?”

A shudder ran through him and he shook his head. “Not exactly. I left mid siege and have been on the road. I have no idea how that’s going, no word from the south has reached Chiron either.”

“Duty. Of course.” She looked away. “The women here were talking about the trouble Chiron’s in.”

“He wanted no assistance, nor did his people want to hear my suggestions.” There was a touch of annoyance, injured pride perhaps?

“Tough to get a no, eh?” She asked without thinking. His eyebrows shot up but he gave a rueful grin.

“Not used to hearing it.”

“Of course not. Who says no to the Imperial prince?” Xin stepped back when he stood, though he just seemed amused.

“I really hate my titles.”

“You wear them very well though, Tier. Even if you pretend you don’t.”

“I will have to remember not to try to mince words with you, woman. You have a mean tongue.” He said. “Come on. There is enough gossip in this pit of vipers, I’d rather not add to it.”

“Great.”

“The women giving you trouble?” Tier asked. Xin shrugged.

“No. I’m not highborn enough for them. Not to mention all they talk about is clothes and who is sleeping with whom.” she fluttered her hand. “I got my fill of that from Matau.”

“Which is why I tend to avoid court.” He pointed towards the complex of buildings. “There’s a library to hide in over this way, if you want to get away.”

“A library? You read for leisure?” She asked archly. He shook his head.

“On occasion.” he laughed. “More often I’ll sleep. It’s very peaceful, even the most tiresome old windbags shut up in the library.”

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 29th.

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. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 9 pt 2

This entry is part 10 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.

 

 

With Vieno’s warnings in mind, and her head feeling like her scalp was going to rip off, Xin followed the matronly woman to the waiting chamber. Though she’d felt almost dazzled by the dress Vieno had draped on her, the other women’s gowns, edged in gold and silver, made hers look far simpler. Vieno smiled at her, turned and left. The other women eyed her, like a cat would eye a mouse.

They were all taller than she was, darker complicated and heavily adorned with beads and things in their hair and dangling from their earlobes. They took her in, whispering amongst themselves and then dismissed her as a loud gong echoed. There were several low tables, men sitting on cushions on the marble floor and a crescent shaped table up on a dais. Lord Chiron sat at the center, to his left was a space that, as she hesitated, was filled by one of the elegant women. To his right sat Tier and Rale, a space between them. When they saw her they exchanged a look she couldn’t read before Tier motioned her to join them. To the space beside him. In front of all those people who watched her every move.

She made her way quickly, praying she wouldn’t trip on the skirts or the cushions that were lining either side of the tables. When she reached the dais she was shaking and she sank to the cushion between the men, locking her eyes on the plate before her.

“You all right?” Tier asked in a low voice. She glanced up at him trying not to see the people watching her. Both he and Rale had changed into more appropriate dinner wear, tunic and robes similar in style to the Delebeg people. It was odd seeing Tier without armor or weapons. Clothing change or not, he looked like a soldier in finery, which was oddly comforting.

“There are a lot of people here.” She whispered. Tier nodded and rested his hand on her knee, leaning over towards her.

“Pretend they aren’t there. You’ll be fine.” His voice was the barest whisper.

“Easy for you to say.” She glanced up at him when he squeezed her knee in a manner she guessed meant to be reassuring.

“They’re too worried with my title to see the people around them.” he squeezed her knee again and then removed his hand. Xin bit her lip looking back down at her plate feeling slightly bereft. She rubbed her forehead, what was she thinking?

“Just ignore them.” Rale murmured at her other side. “They’re too worried about impressing Tier at the moment.”

“I know, but it’s kind of hard to ignore them.” Xin did a quick glance around the room her stomach did a flop. Chiron watched her, his expression cold, emotionless. His eyes revealed nothing, Xin fought the urge to shiver and run, instead forcing a courteous smile.

“Is everything acceptable?” he hesitated. “My lady?” He said the last slowly, as if in doubt his gaze flickering past her. An attempted insult, she was certain of it. His expression gave nothing away but she could feel the tension in both Tier and Rale.

“Yes, my lord.” She forced her own smile, blinking several times vapidly. He wanted to play games? She’d played games with Matau aplenty. “It is unexpected to find such revelry so far from the Empire.” She smiled again, this time pleased to see the tension in his shoulders.

“Delebeg is the Empire, my lady.” he replied through gritted teeth.

“On the outskirts of, I suppose.” she said sweetly. Tier’s hand was back on her knee, gentle warning pressure. “It is a beautiful dining hall.” she hesitated before adding “My Lord.” Tier’s fingers dug into her knee almost painfully. Rale jabbed her in the side.

“Be nice.” Rale hissed at her.

Lord Chiron smiled coldly at her then looked towards the back of the room, clapping twice, loudly. Servants filed in, scantily clad men and women with trays of all sorts of food. Meats, roasts, fruits, jugs of liquids with fine goblets adorned huge silver trays, and with them wafted the rich smells that made her mouth water.

Though she felt a bit braver for crossing subtle insults with Chiron, as the noise in the room grew Xin longed for the little cove in Dhaul, for her small attic. Even the fortress chambers, anything but this hall with all its noise and so many people. Everyone from her village could have fit in this room. Rale handed her a small glass of water.

“Whatever you do don’t drink the wine.” he whispered.

“Why?” Xin glanced up and down the table, neither Rale nor Tier had any of it though Chiron’s clear glass was full of the pale purple liquid.

“The wine’s strong and I don’t trust Chiron.” Rale tapped the plate with his knife. “That red stuff is spicy, it burns. The meat should be pretty good, but anything that is red, steer clear of.”

Xin looked at him and nodded. “Anything else I should know?” she whispered.

“Chiron hates Tier. I think the feeling might be mutual.” Rale ate a bit, motioning her to do the same. Tier and Chiron were talking about some military issue. “Chiron will try to goad you or I into being rude. If we slip he can complain to the Emperor, which might give Tier some trouble.”

Xin nodded. She stared at the food her stomach doing flops. “There’s too many people here.”

“This is nothing.” Rale touched her hand. “The hall of the Imperial Palace is twice this size, so is the hall in Lorn. This,” he gestured to the hall. “Is small.”

Chiron slammed his hand down, startling everyone. Tier looked at him.

“A bit extreme, don’t you think?” Tier’s voice was bland.

“Whose hall is this, your highness?”

“T’was merely a suggestion, at the insistence of your general, Chiron. Nothing more. Nothing personal.” Tier sipped his water and made a motion with his free hand. “You’ve brought back some old traditions, I’ve only read about. Why?”

Chiron lifted his wine glass and sneered. “There are certain things we’ve let go of since the campaigns to expand began. Did you know,” he paused downing his wine. Xin glanced at Rale who was slowly shaking his head. “That in the days of our Great Grandfather women wouldn’t dine in the same room as the leaders?”

“Indeed.” Tier’s hand rested again on Xin’s knee. She considered batting it off, but restrained herself.

“Women are unclean, they say.” Chiron looked directly at Xin. “In the days of our glorious ancestors women wouldn’t even live in the same house as the men.”

“I’m sure the Seeress would find that truly enlightening, seeing as she is, after all, a woman.” Xin said sweetly, batting at Tier’s hand. The mention of the Seeress had an instant effect on both men. The blood drained from Chiron’s face, even Tier glared at her.

“The Seeress changed those traditions, and for reason.” Tier said. Xin batted at his hand again glaring. The gong sounded again.

“That’s the cue for the unclean women to leave.” A woman’s voice broke the strained silence. Chiron’s woman stood, tipping the plate of food in her hand over Chiron’s head, and let the platter fall to the ground with a loud, echoing clatter. “Perhaps you should ask the Seeress for clarification on this, tradition.” She snarled. She stormed down from the dais as Chiron spluttered. Tier released Xin’s knee, but gripped her arm as she prepared to stand.

“Go straight to the rooms they assigned you. We’ll talk once this mess is cleared up.” The cold tone in his voice sent chills up her spine. She nodded and he released her. “And keep quiet. Please?”

She took a deep breath. “Only because you said please.” She murmured. As she stood she caught the hint of amusement in Tier’s eyes and Rale had both hands covering his face, his shoulders shaking. As she left she felt almost lighthearted. Almost. She felt the weight of Chiron’s dark glare at her back as she left, and she wished Tier could have gone with her.

 

“You’re lucky we’re guests.” Tier said as he entered.

Xin half turned in the chair, heart pounding. How did the man, large as he was move so quietly? Vieno chuckled behind her.

“She’s got fire. I don’t think there was a person in there who disagreed with her. Many of the nobles, men and women alike are getting tired of Chiron’s ways.” Vieno said. The woman was removing the string of pearls and undoing the twisting braids in Xin’s hair.

“Chiron’s fuming. Serves the bastard right.” Tier set a tray down on the low table and made his way over. Xin looked back at the mirror watching his reflection. He grinned. “I think Rale cracked a rib laughing.”

“Chiron’s woman has created many public scandals.” Vieno set the pearls to one side, smiling at Xin in the mirror. “She embarrasses him constantly.”

“He’s an embarrassment to the Empire. That’s why he’s in Delebeg.”

Vieno paused. “True. Delebeg suffers for it though.”

Xin looked down in her lap, at her hands. “I’m sorry he was, aggravating me.”

“No need to apologize.” Tier said with a chuckle.

Xin glanced up at the mirror as he sat in one of the low chairs.

“Bastard deserved it.” He said.

“Tier.” Vieno admonished.

“Vieno, he was goading her, if she hadn’t snapped Rale would have or I. She can get away with it, we can’t.”

“Still.” Vieno finished and ran a comb through Xin’s hair. “He’s still your blood.”

“Vieno,”

“He and Maen are alike. And they know how to get under your skin.”

“Maen was never this aggravating.” Tier snorted.

“I’m sure he would find that interesting.” Vieno stepped back. “You finish your meal, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you Vieno.” Xin said quickly running her hands through her hair. Her head still felt tight and achy from having her hair twisted so tightly.

“Won’t you stay?” Tier asked smoothly. “There’s enough for all, including Rale if he decides to stop ogling Fatira.”

“No, I ate already.” She gave him a slight bow. “Goodnight children.”

“Children?” Tier asked archly.

“When I look at you, Tier, I still see the twelve year old boy trying to wield a battle axe larger than he was!” Vieno patted his shoulder as she passed by.

“That ended badly.” He snorted again. “And that boy grew up a long time ago.”

“You’re still alone though.” Vieno gave him a long look before curtsying and leaving.

“She cares a lot for you.” Xin observed. Tier looked at her nodding.

“She’s an amazing woman.” Tier motioned her over. “You can’t eat halfway across the room, Xin.”

Xin stood, made her way to the low chair across from where Tier sat and seated herself looking at Tier for a moment her stomach doing wild flops.

“I’m sorry Tier.”

He leaned forward shaking his head as he pulled the cover off the tray. “And I said not to apologize.”

“But,”

“Chiron is drunk.” He lifted a plate and handed it to her. “He started drinking around the same time we arrived and, according to his servants, hasn’t stopped.”

Xin took the plate and sat back, crossing her legs under her. “Because of you being here?”

“More than likely. Chiron and I don’t care for each other.” He leaned back with a chuckle. “Like my brother, Chiron seeks recognition for deeds others have done.”

“And you don’t?” Xin asked after quickly swallowing a piece of meat.

“I have my reputation.” He shrugged. “It is enough to know my advice and experience is sought after, even if I am, officially, on vacation.”

They ate in comfortable silence, far more peaceful than the dining hall, though Tier did comment several times about Rale’s absence. Long after Tier left, Xin sat staring at the seat he’d occupied.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, July 24th.

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. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 9 pt 1

This entry is part 09 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.

 

Chapter 9 pt 1

The city of Delebeg dominated the desert valley, the towering walls of the city a ruddy red matching the local rock. It straddled a dry riverbed that was dotted with old, long unused docks. The road leading to the tall gates was wide and lined with tall stones. The guards at the gate straightened and nodded in Tier’s direction as they passed through.

Within the walls, the buildings were the same mud brick as the walls, and the dry dusty air made Xin feel like she was about to sneeze. Xin trailed behind the men. People stopped, staring as they went by. Many of them were dressed in loose robes that billowed in the lightest breeze.

In the center of the city, glowing white beneath the unforgiving sun, was a palace. The closer they got to it, the more Xin noticed greenery. She frowned, glancing back. The people were following them from a distance. Xin swallowed, and urged her horse to move faster, closer to Rale and Tier. These people were unnerving.

The road changed as they neared the palace. From brick to carefully laid cobblestones, and those following them stopped at the line where it changed. Neither men seemed to notice. Xin forced her attention on the arched gate. Beyond the gate was a courtyard and on the far end was a set of steps leading up to double doors. At the top of the steps stood a man. Tall, thin and gaunt, his eyes glittered as they neared. Tier raised his hand in greeting and dismounted.

“No fanfare, no announcements nor chalets, just riding up the road. Gods of the great high one, you haven’t changed a bit.” The man’s voice was deep and though he was smiling, it failed to reach his eyes. Xin’s stomach twisted. There was something off about this man, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Hello Lord Chiron, I don’t suppose we could impose on your hospitality?” Tier asked, meeting him half way down the steps. “We’ve been on the old road for a while, and could use a rest.”

“My household would be honored to have you here, your highness.” Chiron said, bowing. “Lord Rale? Is that you under all that dust?”

“It is.” Rale slid off his horse and limped over to Xin’s horse. “It’s a hell of a trek down the mountain.”

“It is.” Chiron laughed. “Why did you take the old road.”

“Scenery!”

Xin dismounted stepping back as several youths with shaved heads arrived, bowed to them and took the reins from their hands, guiding the horses towards a side archway. Xin watched bemused. She couldn’t tell if they were male or female and their simple clothes didn’t give any hints When she looked back towards the men, Lord Chiron was staring at her, his heavy brows pulled together. His false smile faded.

“I do not recognize you, my lady.” Chiron’s voice was odd. Xin glanced over at Tier, unsure of what to say.

“This is Xin.” Tier motioned her over, resting a hand on her shoulder, he squeezed gently. “A road companion headed for Sandau.”

Xin gave what she hoped was a proper curtsy. The way Chiron was staring at her made her wonder if she’d sprouted horns and hadn’t noticed.

“Still picking up strays along the way, eh?” Chiron looked back at Tier and sneered. He motioned them to follow him up the stairs. “You haven’t changed at all.”

“I believe you said that already.” Rale muttered as he touched Xin’s shoulder. “Come on, this will be unpleasant. Chiron hogs the water for the palace grounds so we might as well take advantage of it.”

“Is that why the people were following us?”

“Chiron isn’t exactly liked. The people here are always short on water.” Rale glanced behind him. “That’s how Chiron keeps them docile.”

“Awful.”

“It is. He is.”

“It is going to be a long few days.” Xin murmured.

“Yep.” Rale grimaced and allowed her to go ahead of him into the palace.

They followed Chiron through large open halls and corridors, a maze that Xin feared she’d get lost in if left behind. The forest and finding her way in the mountains were easy. The mere idea of trying to manage these passages by herself made her gut twist. They were nearing another set of doors when Xin felt the heavy pull of water.

She hesitated, glancing around. When the doors opened from without, the moisture hit her. Chiron had led them to an inner courtyard that flaunted his ownership of the water. It was dominated by a large fountain and pool, and around the base was a pond with water lilies. Along the edge of the courtyard, in huge buckets, were fruit laden trees. The moisture tugged at her, calling to her. She wanted to dive into the fountain, to rid herself of the dust and dry air.

She hesitated at the entry, glancing at Tier. He was listening to whatever Chiron was saying.

“We have a situation to the northeast. I must meet with my officials.” Chiron was saying.

He clapped twice and two young women with dark skin and draped in loose, light yellow wraps, hurried over. Behind them, her steps slow and deliberate, her hands clasped in front of her, was an older woman. Her skin not quite as dark, and her wraps though similar style, were a rich orange with embroidery along the edges. One of the robes was pulled halfway over her head, covering her hair from view. She halted and bowed at Chiron.

“You called, my lord?”

“Take care of my guests.” HE turned towards Tier. “Is there anything else, your highness?”

“No. Thank you. We will see you at dinner then.” Tier said, his tone had a touch of steel that Xin hadn’t heard before. She glanced at Rale whose eyebrows arched in surprise though he said nothing.

Lord Chiron spun around and hurried off, his robes swishing as he went. Xin breathed a sigh of relief. The man had an oily aura about him that she didn’t care for. She turned her attention to the women.

The two younger women half knelt, heads lowered. The older woman smiled at them, holding out her hands. Tier bowed, much to Xin’s surprise, and stepped forward, catching the woman in a tight embrace.

“You have been away for far too long, Tier.” she spoke slowly, her accent heavy.

“They usually have me on the other side of the nation.” Tier said turning towards Xin and Rale. “Vieno, these are my traveling companions, you remember Rale?”

“It has been years.” Rale said bowing also.

“Silly boys, you don’t bow to me, my lords.” She looked at Xin. “And who is this lady who travels with you?”

“This is Xin, from the Dhaul region.” Tier hesitated. “She’s traveling with us till we reach Sandau.”

“I’m no lady.” Xin said quickly. Vieno’s eyebrows arched and she smiled before turning towards Rale.

“Fatira will take you to your quarters to clean up and rest. Dinner is at sunset.”

One of the younger women stood, curtsied, and strode off towards a side door in the courtyard. After a moment’s hesitation, Rale followed. As the door closed behind him, a youth burst through running towards them, sliding to a stop, his eyes wide.

“Your highness,” he bowed, gasping for breath. “Lord Chiron request your presence in the meeting hall.” He looked up. “The officials insisted.”

“Chiron is always impatient.” Vieno said.

Tier turned towards Xin, eying her for a long moment. “Vieno,”

“Go on, highness, before Chiron loses his temper. I’ll make sure Lady Xin is comfortable.” Vieno gave a bow and then a shooing motion.

Xin watched him walk away with the servant and turned to face Vieno.

“You look very tired, young woman. Come with me.” Vieno smiled warmly, turned and walked back the way she’d come. Xin took a deep breath and followed the elegant woman.

 

“He does not usually travel with others.” Vieno was saying as she made a final adjustment to the dress she’d insisted Xin wear.

“So I have gathered.” Xin shifted, uncomfortable. The dress was a set of loose pieces of fabric, secured by just a few stitches here and there. They flowed around her with each step, yet were so light weight she felt as though she wore nothing. Secured at her shoulders, the dress left her arms bare, gathered at her waist the skirts covered her legs to her ankles which Vieno had insisted be decorated with thin golden chains.

“He is an awful lair.” Vieno said directly. “You were not planning to go to Sandau.”

“He is an awful liar.” Xin agreed laughing. “But yes, I have family in Sandau.” She resisted the urge to twirl in the dress and met Vieno’s gaze. The older woman’s eyes narrowed.

“I will believe you, if you insist.” She said finally. “Come, sit, your hair needs fixing.”

Xin slowly reached up, clasping both hands over her bun.

“I won’t cut it, girl. Pull out the hair stick and let’s see it.” Vieno moved the chair closer.

Xin swallowed and did so. Her hair fell out of the bun and Vieno nodded. “You take good care of it. Good. Now sit.”

“Lady Vieno, this dress, the anklets, it’s all much too fine for me.”

“You are a guest, and you travel with an Imperial Prince. You need to look the part. Besides, I saw the way he looked at you, I know you aren’t blind, you saw it too.”

“He is an Imperial Prince. I am nothing.” Xin said as she sat. “It wouldn’t be,” she floundered her cheeks heating up.

“He does not think you are nothing.” Vieno began to carefully comb through Xin’s hair. “Things could happen.” She chuckled. “He is not a bad looking man.”

“No, he’s not.” Xin agreed, annoyed when the woman chuckled. “Still, what would be the point? When we get to Sandau we will go our separate ways.” She couldn’t think about returning to Nekar. Despite what he said, she couldn’t trust Seeress.

“He is a lonely man.” Vieno said and set the comb to one side and began to do something with Xin’s hair that involved pulling, lifting and twisting. “He came to Delebeg as a young boy, left a man and in all that time he was alone. Even now, second in command of the Imperial Army in the East, he is alone. Few friends,”

“What about Rale?” Xin asked.

“They are cousins and happen to get along.” Vieno did something and Xin cringed, pain shooting through her scalp. “Sorry. Tier does his duty and that’s it. You are good for him.”

“That’s all he lives for, he said as much.” Xin said softly.

“You have given him something else to think of besides duty.” Vieno stepped back and nodded with a smile. “Look in the mirror girl.”

Xin hesitated and stepped in front of the body length piece of metal and stared. The woman standing in the mirror couldn’t be her, could it? She smoothed the skirt over her front and blinked when the reflection did the same. Vieno had twisted her hair into a myriad of braids that looped and draped, working in a string of pearls which stood out against her dark hair.

“Would it be so awful to be with him? Even for a short period of time?” Vieno asked gently.

Xin couldn’t answer. She stared at the mirror, not really seeing her reflection. Tier had been in her thoughts, invading her sleep. It was stupid. What if the Seeress decided to have her put to death? He would be the one to do it.

“He does his duty. He serves the Empire, the Seeress,”

“He is on a mission for the Seeress.” Xin looked at the older woman. Vieno frowned.

“I did not know that.” She shook her head. “That is a death sentence.”

“So I’ve heard.” Xin looked down. “It wouldn’t,” she couldn’t continue.

“This is not good.” Vieno tightened something on the dress. “It is a death sentence to be asked to do her work. Especially outside the Empire.”

“Surely some have survived, I would think if anyone could, he would!”

“Indeed.” But Vieno was still frowning. “What has she asked him to do? No, I’ll ask him myself.”

“If it’s a death sentence, and everyone is afraid of her, why,”

“Do we still follow her?” Vieno took a deep breath. “Because the alternative is much worse.”

“Is it?” Xin shook her head.

“Hush.” Vieno lowered her voice. “There are some things one doesn’t discuss, she can find things out at a great distance, and there are many mice within the palace walls.”

Xin turned meeting the woman’s dark eyes. They studied each other.

“Be careful what you say, and to whom. Dhaul is relaxed, less a part of the empire than a tributary. Words, the wrong ones, in front of the wrong person, can get you killed.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Xin murmured.

“There are some things you should be aware of, customs you must adhere to.” Vieno said. “All eyes will be on you.”

“Oh lovely.”

~*~

The rest of chapter 9 will be posted Tues, July 22th. Sorry y’all, it was just way too long. 

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. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 8

This entry is part 08 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.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

They left in the predawn light, following the trail back down to the crossroads. When they reached it, Xin stared at the path that wound it’s way back down to the village she’d grown up in. She couldn’t go back. Ever. Her stomach twisted. She turned, looking up at Tier.

“I’ll accompany you, for now.” She sighed.

Tier inclined his head. Rale extended his hand. “Ride behind me. Save your feet.”

Xin snorted but stepped over. “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“We’ll go slow.” Rale assured her as she clumsily got up behind him. She gripped his belt, hoping her shaking wouldn’t be obvious.

“The next town, we’ll see about getting you a horse.” Rale craned his neck, looking at her over his shoulder.

Xin nodded, belatedly realizing he couldn’t see her. “All right.”

 

They followed the twisting road, farther than Xin had been. Passing between steep cliffs and down into a narrow, eerily silent valley. Trees with ruddy red trunks towered over them and mist clung to the ground. The men were tense and Xin watched Tier closely. Several times he looked off into the forest, brows pulled together, staring at something. Rale said nothing about it, Xin hesitated to ask. They reached a wide, shallow stream, and Tier pulled his horse to a halt.

“Let’s stop here, water the horses and eat.” He said, his voice low.

“It feels heavy here.” Rale said. His horse stopped, ears flickering back and forth. Xin slid off, and limped back from the horse. Her legs trembled.

She made her way towards the stream, picking her way around several boulders trying to walk out the odd feel to her legs. The water whispered to her, dancing along her mind. She crouched, glancing back at the men. They were looking at a parchment, talking in low voices. She sighed and dipped her fingers in the water.

It was cold, soothing. She closed her eyes listening. The road followed along side the stream for quite a distance, almost to the lake, she knew that from the map, and could feel it in her mind. She frowned. She heard, no she felt percussions rippling through the water. She straightened, staring upstream. The sound of horses moving through the water was carried on the current. She swallowed. Bandits.

“Bandits, upriver.” She called to the men. “Four maybe five. I think there might be more in the forest.”

Tier was on his feet, sword drawn before she finished. Rale drew his slender sword and they both moved toward the stream bank. Xin crept towards the large boulders beside the stream, the sounds of splashing reaching her. Around the bend, their armor ragged and mismatched, came bandits that appeared to have had far better days. Their horses appeared underfed and scraggly. Tier lowered his sword. They halted, exchanging startled looks, their horses sidestepping, ears flat on their heads.

“Your money and the woman and you may pass.” One of the men called.

“Or you’ll do what?” Tier scoffed. “Bat at us with those toy blades?”

The bandits hissed back and forth, and Xin stared at the water around the horses hooves.

“We’ll kill you.”

“You can try, won’t get very far.” Rale called. Xin shot him a startled look, he didn’t look the type. Tier chuckled and shook his head.

“You won’t succeed. Go back where you came from, you won’t get anything from us.”

“Noblemen from Nekar, all alone, in the middle of nowhere.” One of the men with finer clothing than the others leaned forward. “Put your toy swords away and hand over your money. We might even share the woman….Oww.”

Xin directed a large chunk of half frozen ice at the man, hitting him in the chest and knocking him off the A blob of ice shot from the water slamming into the man’s chest. He fell back and hit the iced over stream, his horse spooked, darting from the stream, circles of ice around his hooves. The other horses followed their fellow, dashing onto the shore, leaving their startled riders behind in the stream.

The panicked horses tangled with bandits trying to run out from the forest in an ambush. Xin turned her attention back to the bandits who had been dumped by their terrified mounts. She focused, freezing the surface of the water around them and muttered one of Matau’s favorite oaths. The man she’d hit with the ice got to his feet, just out of range of her ice. She stepped forward and focused on the water around his legs, freezing it as fast as she could. He yowled, struggling to yank his legs free.

Xin tossed a few ice balls at the other men trying to keep them from the fray onshore. The leader yowled in frustration. The others were working themselves loose. Xin couldn’t keep the water frozen. Her head was pounding and she could feel sweat beading on her face. She’d never used her ability like this, though she’d heard stories and tried small ice balls late at night when no one was looking.

With a yell the bandits broke and fled back into the forest. Xin sank to the ground shaking, her head heavy. The leader was dragging himself out of the water, his legs encased in ice chunks. He yelled something she didn’t catch and half ran, half limped into the safety of the forest.

Xin forced herself to her feet. They might be just out of sight, watching and regrouping. She made her way back over to the men. Several of the bodies lay on the ground, blood seeping around them. Xin gritted her teeth, her stomach doing a dangerous flop. Tier touched her shoulder.

“You okay?”

Xin blinked and looked up at him, nodding mutely.

“We’ll get going here in a moment.” He grimaced, rubbing his thumb. It looked odd.

“You hurt?”

He shrugged. “I’ll live.”

“Dislocated your thumb again?” Rale shook his head. “The healers in Lorn could have fixed that.”

Tier scowled at him. “Let those crazies cut my hand open. No.”

“One of the horses got tangled in the underbrush.” Rale pointed.

“Payment for the inconvenience.” Tier looked at Xin. Looks like you have a horse now, my lady.”

Xin snorted, looking at the ragged beast. “Let’s hope it lives.”

“It,” Tier half bent, looking under the beast’s belly. “She, will probably live longer in our care than with those incompetent fools.”

 

Rale helped Xin get to know her new mount while Tier wrapped his hand, securing his thumb with a rarely used brace, swearing under his breath. The bandit’s sword hit his at just the right angle. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Once it was secure he gathered the weapons that looked usable and watched Rale going over some basic riding skills. The poor woman was pale.

“You think you can ride solo, or do you want to give it some time?” Tier asked.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you.” Her voice didn’t sound like she’d be fine at all but he wasn’t about to push her. His head was ringing from the power she’d been using. It troubled him. He shouldn’t be able to feel it, should he? She shook the thought off, it led to other, dangerous questions. Questions he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers to.

They rode on, going slow at first, then a bit faster as they neared the foothills of the mountains separating Dhaul from the desert province of Delebeg. They reached the bottom of the pass and found a small abandoned town. The thatch roofs had fallen into rickety shells of houses whose owners abandoned them. They found what might have once been an inn, and a stable yard able to secure the horses. They left early to reach the peak of the pass.

The passage up the pass was narrow and clogged with rocks and at the peak Rale and Xin both suggested they rest before going back down the other way. A stone hut provided them with shelter, and a view of the valley stretching out below.

Tier took the first shift, though they hadn’t seen any more bandits, they were out there, resentful and angry. He didn’t want to give them any chance to do anything. He’d settled against the outside wall when Xin approached him. She looked as if she were about to say something but instead she sighed, moving as though to go back inside.

“Something on your mind?” He asked. She half turned, looking up at him.

“How much further to Delebeg?”

He peered into the dark valley below. “Do you see those lights in the distance?”

She was quiet. He wished the moon was out so he could get a better glimpse of her face. Her hair was brushing his face, and arm and he was tempted catch it and braid it or something. He gripped his sword belt instead. It was safer.

“That’s Delebeg?” She sounded forlorn. Tier inwardly sighed. He wasn’t sure what to do, how he might help her feel better.

“It’s about four days, possibly five depending on how the horses do.”

“It’s dry down there. I can feel it.” she shuffled her feet.

“What’s it like?” He asked. He should send her back to bed, but he didn’t want her to leave just yet.

“What? Water using?”

“Yeah.” He hesitated. He almost mentioned being able to feel when she used her powers, but the words stuck in his throat. Now wasn’t the time.

“It’s an irresistible pull.” She said after a long silence. “It’s a whisper in the back of my mind that never quite goes away. If I’m not careful I could end up going under.” She shuddered.

“Going under?”

“Getting lost in the call of the water. There were stories Matau told me about, stories of water users who were unable to resist the call of the water. They either disappeared or drowned.”

Tier wasn’t sure what to say.

“I think if there wasn’t such a harsh punishment for just being what we are, it wouldn’t have consumed them.” Her voice was almost inaudible.

“The law,” Tier began but she interrupted.

“What if the law is wrong?” She asked softly. “Have you ever considered that? Not all laws are right, just because they’re laws.” She touched his arm, a feather touch that sent shock waves through him. “It means that the people in power want it done that way.”

He considered that.

“Good night, Tier.” She went silently and he couldn’t think of anything to say to bring her back.

He stared out into the darkness considering what she had said, and what she hadn’t. He’d never worried about it, never even thought about it. The law was the law. But that law dictated that he should put her to death. The law determined she was not a person, just an evil being.

The Seeress had ordered him to seek out the elementals. Would she also order him to kill them? And if she did, could he really do it? He’d never questioned his orders. Never doubted that the Seeress knew what was right for Nekar, for their people.

And yet she gave him chills, nightmares, and there were times he could almost feel her near him. Her fingernail dragging slowly down his chest, her voice whispering in his head. It left an oily, grimy feel that he hadn’t been able to wash away. If she suspected he was doubting her, doubting the laws he’d enforced his entire adult life, his life wouldn’t be worth living. She’d make sure of it. The question Xin asked earlier hung in his mind, nagging at him. If he was ordered to, could he kill her? For the first time in his life, he didn’t know the answer. Confused, troubled he stayed long past when he was supposed to wake Rale. When he finally went inside he was no closer to an answer.

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 15th.

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. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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