Mar
2016

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 36

This entry is part 37 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.

 

 

Xin watched the guards standing outside the window, barely hearing the conversation in the main room behind her. Rale was in one of the empty back rooms, the healer and Lady Launi with him.

“Until we can determine whether he is safe or not, we’re going to have him here, under guard.” Lord Nesh’s voice had an edge to it.

“Some people are going to be unhappy. Having a Nekarian Lord here, especially with the fall of the fort…” Aitelle began.

“Which is why Launi is scanning him. We’ll determine what we’ll do with him later.”

“Too bad there’s no dungeons in Sandau.” Aitelle said absently.

“If we need them, I’m certain the rock shapers can oblige.” Lord Nesh left, and Xin half turned, staring at the closed door.

“They only brought in Rale?” Geb asked his voice low. He sat at the table, a box with rocks for practice set in front of him.

“They said he was alone, fell off his horse.”

The doorway to the hall that led to the rooms opened and a sober looking Launi entered the room. She made a slight head movement, as though she were looking at each of them in turn, then she motioned them to the table. Once they were all seated she too sat, folding her hands in front of her on the table.

“Lord Rale has undergone some severe mental and physical torture. He is going to be unconscious for a few days while the healer and I work to undo what the Seeress did.”

“What did she do?” Xin asked.

Launi’s brows pulled together. “Kera was trained in a type of mental combat that enabled her to twist the body to do her will. She can turn the body against itself. And that’s what she did. He is going to be in constant pain. His body is attacking itself.”

“I didn’t know spirit elementals could do that.” Xin whispered.

“We can do that and much more. History tells us there were great and powerful Spirit Elementals. They could manipulate huge numbers of people. They could turn the body in on itself, as Kera has done with Lord Rale. Some were able to show others what we see.

“The ghosts?”

“And other things. There were those who could walk between the veil, and open portals to other lands, other realms. With those powers came conflict. There were wars fought between factions, my people have an ugly past.” Launi closed her eyes and a shudder ran through her thin frame. “Before the war, a thousand years ago, there were twelve active Oracles.  Kera and her twin were taught in one of the oldest and some whispered they were taught ancient teachings not taught elsewhere. The war took its toll. By its end all but one Oracle was in ruin, the Spirit Elementals slaughtered and teachings and irreplaceable knowledge lost. I have never seen the type of manipulation done on Rale, in person. It may take several sessions to reverse what she did.”

“Any word on Tier?” Xin asked. Launi frowned.

“Rale had correspondence from a Lord Xeresel with him.” She said slowly. “The note indicated that Prince Tier was executed shortly after his return, and that Rale cannot return to Nekar.”

Xin felt as though she’d been punched. “Why?” She felt Aitelle’s hand on her shoulder and resisted the urge to shove her friend away. She wanted to scream, to cry, she just sat staring at Launi, not willing to believe it.

“He did what he was told.” Geb whispered.

“There was no reason given. Rale may be able to shed light on it, when he wakes.” Launi stood and took a deep breath. “I must go speak with Nesh.”

Xin nodded numbly, meeting Geb’s gaze. The youth just shook his head and pushed violently away from the table storming out the door. Xin had half a mind to follow him.

“There will be a few new rock pillars in the fields by this evening.” Aitelle said softly.

~*~

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Chapter 35                              Table of Contents

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May
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 30

This entry is part 31 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

Anil, runner of Delebeg, crept in the shadows of the buildings near the bay. He frowned as he watched the fancy dressed nobles rushing by, their business a mystery to him. He patted the message tube gently and waited. When the sun began to set, and the upper class were replaced by the lowly workers returning to their homes, that was when it was safe to leave his little corner.

Lorn was a city of ideas. A city of sins, some whispered. He pulled a strip of travel meat from his other pouch, munching on it. Time dragged and when the sun finally started to set, Anil’s legs were numb. He shook it off, creeping from the shadows.

For those who paid attention, at the base of the buildings, blue glyphs gave a faint glow. Anil glanced around and ducked his head down towards his chest, hunching his back. He’d look like a homeless beggar to anyone watching. The glyphs were irregular, one here, one four buildings down, the next one, two, there was no pattern to how they were spaced and there were hundreds, possibly thousands in this part of Nekar. Inside each glyph was a series of dots. Each one was different. He was looking for a certain pattern set in front of a house he’d been to once before. He scowled, glancing up and down the rapidly emptying street, unsure of which house it was. It was this neighborhood. He was certain of it.

The sun had sunk below the horizon by the time he found it, and he stole a glance up at the building, nodding to himself. The tallest, most extravagant building this side of Lorn. The Bavanan Embassy, known for it’s flamboyant master, Lord Xeresel. He swallowed, and followed the building around to the back entry. The marks on the door, the strange swaying script of the Bavanan, would move if he looked at it for too long. It hurt his eyes.

He wiped his hands on his breeches before knocking. After a moment a tall, fair skinned woman with golden curls framing her overlarge blue-green eyes, opened the door sending a sweet scent in his directing. Her strangely slanted eyes narrowed when she saw him and she stepped back, out of the doorway. She bowed her head, motioning him inside with a fluid sweep of her arm. He swallowed and stepped inside, feeling like a bumbling fool, unable to look away from the Bavanan woman. Her ears were delicate, with a high point, and several gold loops lined them, from tip to earlobe. She tipped her head to one side, a pale yellow curl falling over her face.

“This way.” Her voice, heavily accented, was like music.

He followed her, trying to shake off the glamour, the magic that saturated the place. He’d forget her, he was sure, the moment he left the building. The magic would make sure of that. She led him to a large circular room and then left with a silent bow. A round table dominated the room that was lined with bookshelves. Anil realized he was breathing heavily and closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down. In Delebeg, the books were reserved for the palace. Not exactly outlawed, but there were whispers that Lord Chiron was going to refuse all but his household, the right to own books and scrolls. Once calm he opened his eyes and stepped back in surprise.

“Well met, Anil. Welcome again, to my home.” Lord Xeresel, the ambassador from Bavanan was leaning against the table. Anil bowed and pulled the message tube out. Lord Xeresel frowned and held up his hand. “Come with me to a far more private room. There are many little mice about.”

“Here? In the embassy?” Anil asked, breathless. Lord Xeresel inclined his head. Like the woman who opened the door, Lord Xeresel was pale skinned, his long white gold hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, his eyes a pale blue. He was tall, wiry, and like the woman, wore gold hoops in his pointed ears. Anil followed him out the door and down a confusing maze of corridors, somehow ending up in a small, windowless room with two low chairs and a small oblong table in between them. As Anil sat, a man entered carrying a tray set with several cups, a plate of sweet breads and a steaming pot.

Anil frowned. Human, not Bavanan. His dark hair was long, hung loose, almost to the waist, and his skin was nicely tanned. He was dressed in simple breeches and white tunic that was gathered at the wrists. He nodded towards Anil as he set the tray down. Anil studied him as he turned to the Ambassador. There was a look of absolute adoration on the young man’s face before it smoothed away.

“Do you need anything else, my lord?” His voice low, but deep. Lord Xeresel smiled warmly at him.

“Prepare a room for our esteemed guest. I will call if I need anything else, Aziz.”

Aziz bowed low, turned and left, shutting the door behind him.

“You must be famished, Anil.” Lord Xeresel spread his hands out, indicating the tray.

“Thank you my lord.” Anil pulled out the feather and handed it to Xeresel. He watched as the Ambassador slowly spun the feather between his long fingers, expression thoughtful.

“You have heard the bad news, I take it?”

“The execution of the Prince? Aye.” Anil hesitated, meeting the Bavanan’s eyes.

“It will only be the beginning. You can tell the gracious lady that.” He set the feather to one side, resting his elbow on the arm of his chair. “It would be best, Anil, if you return to Delebeg and stay out of Nekar proper.”

“My Lord?” Anil hesitated in the process of taking a bite of a sweet bread.

“A storm is brewing, over all of Nekar. The further you are from the Oracle, the safer you will be.” He lifted a sweet bread, studying it as closely as he’d studied the feather. “Safeguard Lady Veino.”

Anil swallowed hastily. “Do you think she is in danger?”

The Ambassador gave a barely perceptible shrug. “I think it would be wise to take every precaution.” He flashed a smile at Anil. “Now, you have traveled far to reach Lorn, and seen much. Please, tell me about the trip.”

~*~

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Chapter 29                                Table of Contents

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May
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 29

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why,”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just to Tyrsleth, Cor. I’ll pay,”

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

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

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

“Tier?” Her voice hard.

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

 

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

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

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

Tier shook his head. “Crazy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why what?”

“Why, this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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Chapter 28                                Table of Contents                  Chapter 30

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Mar
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 28

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Liquid, solid, steam.”

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

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

“Not bad.”

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

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

She frowned.

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

“I’ll try to remember that.”

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

“I’ve never tried.”

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

“The Seeress?”

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

“What is it, exactly?”

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

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

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

“Dangerous?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

“He seems good with children.” Xin observed.

“Aye.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Xin put the papers back, carefully replacing everything.

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

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

“Xin, what is it?”

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

~*~

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Chapter 27                                   Table of Contents                          Chapter 29

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Feb
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 27

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

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

 

Estate of the Hassof Family

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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Chapter 26                                   Table of Contents

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Feb
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 26

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

He was off the pole. Now what?

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

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

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

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

~*~

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Chapter 25                                      Table of Contents                   Chapter 27

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Feb
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 25

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will she honor her part?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she?”

On the ground Rale groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let. Me. In.”

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

“Kit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Use rope.” Kit, moved past him.

“But, Kit, rope…”

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

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

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

“Yes, of course.”

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

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

~*~

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Chapter 24                                      Table of Contents                   Chapter 26

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Feb
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 24

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

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

 

Tier leaned against the wall, staying out of the way of the nobles circling the strange invention that dominated the inner courtyard. They reminded him of buzzards in the desert, waiting for something to die. Though he spotted a few people he recognized, but had no desire to speak to them. His head still hurt. He rubbed his forehead and stared at the thing floating at the end of thick ropes in the courtyard.

Thick brown cloth of varying shades were patch-worked together in an oblong ball and floated above them. Ropes were slung criss cross over the top, attached to a wide, low basket hanging underneath it. The basket was anchored to a fountain, bobbing gently with each movement of the floating ball. There was some sort of metal stove with a chimney attached to the underside of the ball, where a small round opening allowed the smoke from the stove to fill the ball. Tier couldn’t tell how it stayed hanging just underneath the opening. The nobles passing between him and the strange thing blocked his view. The outside of the basket had several heavy looking bags tied to the outside of it.

A group of men huddled beside the fountain, holding something and pointing from it to the floating thing and making exaggerated gestures. It was only a matter of time before one of them would hit a passing noble.

“They say it will change the future.”

Tier swallowed a sigh, glancing over at his overdressed elder brother. Maen crossed his arms and gestured towards the thing. “They say it can go over the mountains and will render the passes unnecessary.”

“You’ll never get me in one of those things.” Tier grumped. Maen sneered and shook his head.

“You look like a vagabond.”

“You look like a peacock.” Tier glanced beyond Maen, looking for and failing to locate Hannah.

Maen’s eyes narrowed, he half turned, facing the air-boat but staying within punching distance.

“How was Chiron?”

Tier gritted his teeth. “Drunk last time I saw him.”

Maen snickered. “And the woman? I’d half hoped to meet her.”

“What you heard was an exaggeration.” Tier forced himself to keep his voice steady.

“But where is she?” Maen seemed genuinely curious.

“She stayed in Sandau.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two in the same room at the same time!” Hannah stepped from the crowd, sliding between them with a smile.

“We can be civil.” Tier gritted out.

“Mostly.” Maen inclined his head. “Though it might be best to not push our luck. Good to see you again, Tier.” He turned and strode off not waiting for a reply.

“Don’t come back.” Tier muttered. Hannah gripped his arm, leaning against him.

“Be nice, Tier. He’s been worried about you.”

Tier looked down at her in surprise. She nodded and tugged slightly.

“Walk with me, please?”

He smothered a sigh but nodded, letting her guide him through the crowd towards the other end of the courtyard. He ignored the stares and whispers of those he strode past, locking his gaze on the heavily jeweled figure leaning against a pillar near the far door.

The Empress smiled, stepping slowly from the pillar. Each movement was stiff, slow, though her smile was warm, her eyes were shadowed with pain. Tier hugged her gently, stepping back.

“You’ve been gone for far too long.” She said, linking her arm through his.

“Father keeps me busy.” He glanced down at her, noting how thin she seemed. Her cheekbones far more pronounced than he remembered. “You don’t look well.”

“Tier!” Hannah protested.

“Don’t worry about me, Tier.” The Empress nodded towards the contraption in the courtyard. “What do you think of that?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“Mother?” Hannah motioned towards a group of youths. The Empress inclined her head and Tier watched her make her way over to them.

“You have not yet seen the Seeress, have you?” The Empress’s voice was low. Tier shook his head. She sighed, patting his arm. “After you see her, come home for a time.”

Tier met her eyes and nodded. She patted his arm again and stepped away, turning stiffly and making her way up the steps and into the palace. A loud gong sounded behind him, the pounding in his head got worse as he turned and looked again at the thing in the courtyard.

A thin man stood in front of the basket, he gave a bow. “Ladies and Gentlemen, your Excellency,” he swallowed his forehead glistened. “Your Imperial Majesty, forgive me.” He cleared his throat as chuckles and snickers ran through the gathering crowd.

Tier frowned. He hadn’t seen his father earlier, now he spotted the Emperor, standing off to one side of the crowd, a young woman Tier didn’t recognize on his arm. Tier was about to make his way over, but the thin man, who reminded Tier of a long twig, began to speak.

“Behind me is what I’ve called an air-boat.” He rested a trembling hand on the basket, the floating ball above bobbed with the weight. “This one carried myself and a couple passengers through the sky days ago.”

A whisper ran through the crowd.

“How many people can it carry?” A voice called.

“This one can carry three. However, we are working on a larger one, which can carry at least ten.” He looked towards the Emperor. “Our great nation has been confined south of the mountains for an eon. This is our chance to show the world what Nekar can really accomplish. With this, and others like it, we can expand far beyond the mountains.”

The silence was heavy. Tier glanced at his father again. The Emperor was nodding.

“With the right funding, we can outfit the army with these air ships.” The man swallowed. “Imagine, no longer a need for sieges, but dropping forces directly inside the city walls.”

“Impressive. Promising.” The Emperor motioned the air-boat. “How do you steer it?”

The man swallowed and motioned to one of the bags hanging on the side of the basket. “We’re working on improving our methods of steering it, at the moment,”

“The wind takes you where it wants you to go, you mean?”

“Well, yes. But we’re working on,”

“I’ve seen enough.” The Emperor shook his head. “Get this out of my palace.”

The Emperor and his companion left the courtyard. The silence was deafening and the twig man turned from the crowd, leaning against the side of the basket.

“So much for a pet project.” Tier muttered, taking a final look around. People were huddled in groups whispering, no one was looking in his direction. He left. He had more important things to do. Like prepare for his meeting with the Seeress.

~*~

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Jan
2015

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 23

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

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

 

“And you were unable to glean anything at all from Sandau?” General Dyrnos asked with a scowl.

“No.” Tier sat in the War Hall in the Imperial Palace. At the table sat his father and others in the Nekarian High Command. All eyes were on him. His head pounded as though the room was full of holiday drummers. It started shortly before arriving at the Palace, and wasn’t letting up. “Lord Nesh escorted Rale and I out within a day of our arrival.”

General Dyrnos sighed and shook his head. “Typical.”

“And your mission for the Seeress? Was it successful?” The Emperor asked. The silence was heavy. Tier could see the concern written on the faces of the men and women he’d trained with and mentored under for years. Even his headache faded momentarily, as if awaiting his reply. His gut twisted.

“Both a success and a failure, sir. I was forced to leave behind those I was sent to find.” He said slowly.

“But you found the Water Master’s daughter though?” Lord Faruq asked, leaning forward.

Tier studied the man for a long time, heart pounding in his ears. “I was not told I was seeking anyone’s daughter.” He pulled out the little black scroll the Seeress had given him on his departure and unrolled it, skimming over the contents before handing it to the Lord. “Those were my orders.”

The Lord frowned, reading it, and handed it to the woman sitting beside him. It was passed around in silence before returned to Tier who dropped it on the table top in front of him.

“That raises questions,” The man began.

“Which are irrelevant.” The Emperor cut him off. He pinned Tier with a sharp look. “I know your time in Sandau was limited. From what you saw, how well do you think they’d fare in a siege?”

Tier frowned. “The longer you wait, the stronger they’ll be. They are expecting us to move. Right now, the city walls are more decorative than functional, from what I saw. But they’re being buffered.”

The Emperor nodded and leaned forward. “Next winter I want Sandau to be ours.”

Tier leaned back in his chair, the headache was close to blinding. The others were nodding though watching him.

“Shortly after you left on your mission, Jaktor fell. And two days ago, Lord Chiron sent word that the fort finally fell. That gives us two clear paths towards Sandau and the northern lands. I want you at the head of that army.” The Emperor leaned forward. “I want you march out as soon as the passes clear in the spring.”

“I live to serve.” Tier murmured, rubbing his temples.

The meeting continued, discussion of the recent victories and future plans, but he participated less. With each passing moment it felt like claws were scratching at his mind. When the meeting ended he stayed sitting, letting the others leave before he stood.

“Chiron wrote a fairly nasty letter regarding your passing through.” The Emperor said gravely, standing.

“Did he?” Tier forced his eyes to focus on his father, his heart drumming loud in his ears.

“He indicated that he felt you switched sides.”

Tier blinked. “What?”

“He said you threatened to rip his arms off. Over the woman he claimed was the water master’s daughter.”

Tier exhaled in a hiss. “I didn’t threaten to take his arms off. I told him if he touched her I wouldn’t restrain myself.”

The Emperor chuckled. “You scared the shit out of him.”

“Good. He threatened her well-being and publicly insulted her, repeatedly.” Tier stood. “Be assured, my loyalty is to Nekar, and has always been so.”

“And the woman?” The Emperor raised a hand. “I have never known you to threaten violence over a woman.”

“She saved my life, father.” Tier said slowly. “If for no other reason I owed her.”

“Perhaps when you take Sandau she will still be there.” the Emperor said softly. “Bring her back…”

Tier shrugging. “She’s an Elemental. There are far more elementals in the world than we’ve been led to believe.”

The Emperor’s eyes went wide and he nodded. “I see. It is most unfortunate. Maen seems to have no interest in taking a wife,”

“Father,”

“Your mother wants grandchildren before she dies.” The Emperor grinned at him.

Tier snorted, rubbing his forehead. “Before I forget, I wanted to warn you Chiron is running Delebeg into the ground.”

“Howso?”

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

“Interesting.”

“I believe there is trouble, possibly civil unrest brewing in Delebeg.” Tier leaned against the back of the chair he’d been sitting in. “I know you are focused on taking Sandau, but perhaps you should wait.”

“Tier,”

“The problem in Delebeg is a storm-cloud brewing. When it lets loose,”

“We cannot give the northerners a chance to build up their defenses.” The Emperor held up his hand. “We will address the Delebeg situation, but right now those passes are our ticket to the plains. We,”

“We who?”

“What?”

“You said we, you and whom else?” Tier studied his father. The man who had towered over him as a child, frightening him, seemed diminished. Age was showing, and realizing it, he was startled. His father, old?

“The Seeress has outlined her plans for the future. She wants,” the Emperor chuckled. “I want Sandau as a province.”

“It would strain our manpower over time. The Sandau are not to be taken lightly.”

“No. Of course not. But they don’t have what we do. We have the Gods on our side. The Seeress,”

“Who rules Nekar, father?”

The Emperor froze, his face stern. “Tier, I rule. I am the Emperor, do you doubt my power?”

“No!” Tier swallowed. “If the Seeress doesn’t rule, then why does she have such influence on what decisions you make?”

“Tier.” His father’s voice was heavy. “To ask such questions is unwise.”

“Why? You’re the Emperor.” Tier refused to back down.

“Without the Seeress our family wouldn’t be in power. Our people would nothing but nomads wandering the deserts. We, as a people, owe her. If she asks me for the moon, I will do everything in my power to give it to her.”

Tier nodded, gripping the back of the chair. “It has been a long trip. I still have to report to the Seeress.” He spoke carefully.

“Welcome home son.” To his surprise the Emperor embraced him. “Tonight is the Festival of Hope. Maen and Hannah are both here, stay. Join us. Your mother would be very pleased to see you. Tomorrow you can go and report to the Seeress, but for tonight, stay. It has been a long time since you were in these halls.”

“I will.” Tier forced a smile. Despite being home, where he knew he belonged, he felt empty. He missed Xin.

 

His old rooms were pristine, large, decorated as befit his station. They were hollow. It had been years since he’d been in the Palace for an extended period of time. He preferred his estates, far simpler, out of the way. It would be a while before he’d be able to get back. He’d come in earlier, to clean up before meeting with his father, and left his travel things beside the large bed. Now he stood, trying to think around the pain. He did a quick check of his weapons, untouched as were his bags. He sank on one of the chairs at the desk staring at the hard leather covering. What was she doing now? Learning no doubt. Launi said she’d assign teachers to ensure she could improve their gifts. Gifts, not a curse. When had he stopped thinking of them as elementals? He couldn’t remember. She was just Xin, who had faced far more in her life, who had risked far more than he had.

“Is she beautiful?” the soft voice broke through his thoughts. He half turned towards the door, unable to keep from smiling. His younger sister leaned against the door jam. Hannah smiled at him, her dark eyes sparkling from some inner joke.

“What?” Her question barely registered past his headache. It had been almost two years since he’d seen her. She was less the gangly child and more a young woman.

“The woman you threatened Chiron over. It’s all over the palace. Is she beautiful?” She stepped into the room, her long skirts rustling loudly with each step.

Tier half turned away lifting one of the bags. For a brief moment he could almost see Xin, her large soft blue eyes twinkling. “She is, exquisite.”

“Why didn’t you bring her back, then?” Hannah asked coming up beside him. She leaned against his shoulder.

Tier sighed. “Wouldn’t have worked, Hannah. She’s not exactly an ally.” he met his sister’s eyes. She frowned.

“Oh.” She sighed. “Still, you should have anyways. I would like to meet a woman who had my brother threatening to tear a man’s arms off!” She grinned up at him.

“That was an exaggeration. Aren’t you supposed to be in Arhein?” He needed to change the subject.

“I wanted to come back here for festival. And father is planning to find me a husband.” She leaned against him. “I was hoping you’d be home soon.”

“I see.”

“Will you then be around for a while?” She stepped back as he stood. Tier smiled down at her.

“I’ll be here for the festivities tonight.”

“Oh good, there’s supposed to be some sort of unveiling.”

“Unveiling?” Tier frowned.

“One of father’s new pet projects. Finding a way to cross the mountains by air instead of on foot.” Hannah shrugged. “They’re supposed to be showing off the new air-carriage at the height of the festival.”

“Father didn’t say anything about that. Is that why Maen is here?”

“Possibly. No fighting with him, please. I’ve seen the two of you in the same room.” She batted her eyes at him.

“I’ll try to keep my mouth shut.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.” He gave her a quick hug. “I have an awful headache though, squirt. I need to nap this off before tonight. I’ll see you at the festival.”

She smiled, going back to the door. “I’ll hunt you down if you don’t show.”

He chuckled and nodded. “I’ll be there.” She turned to leave then whirled back around, her skirts twisting about her legs, hands clasped tightly in front of her.

“Do you miss her?”

Tier gritted his teeth. “Go on squirt. My head is about to burst.”

She sighed and left, closing the door behind her gently. He stared at it for a long time before making his way to the bed. Once in it, he closed his eyes, hoping sleep would take away the pain, but sleep was a long way off. He could see Xin in his mind’s eye, as she had been in the kitchen in Sandau. Those overlarge eyes, soft hair that felt like silk in his hands. He hoped, prayed to whatever god might be listening that when they marched on Sandau she would be gone.

~*~

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Dec
2014

Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 22

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“What is to become of Geb and I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too.” Xin murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xin nodded. “I do too.”

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

Launi inclined her head.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

Xin swallowed and nodded. “Thank you.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes my lady.”

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

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

“War.”

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

“How soon do you think Nekar will march?”

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

~*~

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

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Dec
2014

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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Dec
2014

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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Aug
2014

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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Aug
2014

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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Jul
2014

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!

Thanks for reading. :)

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