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.”
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.”
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.