Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 15

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rale nodded.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

“Good idea.” Rale replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get some rest.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Tier.”

“Hmmm?”

“What are we going to do?”

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

 

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 14

This entry is part 15 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps there was an uprising.” Rale suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

He looked at her. “I am, am I?”

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

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Tier,”

“It has no bearing with right now.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

No sound though he was certain the boy was listening.

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

“Why?” the voice was rough, cracked.

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

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

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

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

“How’d they discover you?”

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

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

“The Air Elementals fled to Sandau.”

Tier blinked several times. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Amazing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 13

This entry is part 14 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too.” Tier frowned.

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

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

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

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

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

Tier swore.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m done being nice.” She snapped.

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

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

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

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

He closed his one good eye.

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

“My people,”

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

“The big man?”

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

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

“What is your name?”

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

“I can’t just call you boy.”

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

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

“Why?”

“He wasn’t told.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“The boy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 12

This entry is part 13 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

 

Chapter 12

 

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

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

“Any idea why?” Rale asked.

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

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

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

“What happened to her?” Tier asked.

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

“Anything else?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get ready to ride.”

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

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

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

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

“How the hell?” Rale stared at Tier.

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

“How did he do that?” She whispered.

“I have no idea.”

~*~

 

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 11

This entry is part 12 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

 Chapter 11

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

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

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

“Vieno,”

“Tier.”

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

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

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

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

“She ordered me to locate elementals.”

“What?”

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

“Mend the world?”

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

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

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

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

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

“She sent you to Dhaul?” Vieno scowled.

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

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

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

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

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

“You question her?” Vieno asked softly.

Tier swallowed. “Not exactly.”

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

“She is Nekar.” He murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

She was gone before he could say goodnight.

 

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

“Lady Vieno, we weren’t expecting,”

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

“Yes my lady, but,”

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

“A feather?”

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

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

“Slightly. You have a name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 10

This entry is part 11 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Problems?” She peered up at him.

“Not exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xin swallowed. “Homesick?”

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

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

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

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

“Not used to hearing it.”

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

“I really hate my titles.”

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

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

“Great.”

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 9 pt 2

This entry is part 10 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be nice.” Rale hissed at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whose hall is this, your highness?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bastard deserved it.” He said.

“Tier.” Vieno admonished.

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

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

“Vieno,”

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

“Maen was never this aggravating.” Tier snorted.

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

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

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

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

“Children?” Tier asked archly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry Tier.”

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

“But,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth ~ Chapter 9 pt 1

This entry is part 09 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

Chapter 9 pt 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scenery!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that why the people were following us?”

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

“Awful.”

“It is. He is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You called, my lord?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chiron is always impatient.” Vieno said.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Rale?” Xin asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it?” Xin shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh lovely.”

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 8

This entry is part 08 of 37 in the series Elemental Truth

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

 

 

Chapter 8

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ll kill you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

Xin blinked and looked up at him, nodding mutely.

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

“You hurt?”

He shrugged. “I’ll live.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How much further to Delebeg?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Water using?”

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

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

“Going under?”

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

Tier wasn’t sure what to say.

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

“The law,” Tier began but she interrupted.

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

He considered that.

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 7

This entry is part 07 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 7

Xin watched from her bedroll as the prince returned to his, a small wooden box in his hands. He pulled out several small old looking scrolls and skimmed over their contents before pulling out a thin chain with a strange amulet on it. He stared at it with that deep frown, his thumb brushing over its face before tucking it into his belt pouch.

“Where did you find those?” Xin asked. He didn’t look her way, though his eyebrow quirked. He unrolled another scroll.

“Upstairs, hidden under a stone.” He shook his head.

“Did a ghost show you where it was?” Xin asked, half teasing. She hesitated. He paled and glanced at her, his dark eyes unreadable. She swallowed, heart hammering in her ears and scanned the large hall. “Are there any floating around right now?”

“No.” He looked back down at the pile of scrolls, brows pulling together, and lifted a small black scroll. “Interesting.” He murmured, unrolling it.

“What is it?” Xin scooted over to get a better look. It was, she told herself, to avoid waking up Rale.

“This is a summons scroll.” Tier said, frowning as he scanned over the contents. “It’s a request to go to meet with the Seeress.”

“Don’t the Nekarians worship her?” Xin asked.

“Some do.” He rolled the scroll tightly and set it in the bottom of the box before returning the other scrolls atop it. “They say she has guided and protected Nekar for a thousand years.”

“Killing any who oppose her.” Xin snorted.

“No.” Tier shook his head. “Her visions have guided our people, sometimes sacrifices must be made.”

“It seems tyrannical to me. What happens if her orders are ignored? Perhaps peace would break out?”

“The Empire could be diminished.” He closed the box, tucking it into his travel pack. He rummaging through the bag, frowning. “She gives orders for the betterment of the Empire. We are just tools.”

“Do you really believe that?” Xin asked. He looked at her, surprised.

“Of course.”

Xin frowned. “If it wasn’t your duty to locate and return living elementals to her, would you kill me?” Xin asked in a low voice. Tier stilled, eyes darting back to his travel sack.

“I would do my duty.” He said slowly. “But if she hadn’t ordered me here, I would not have needed a guide, nor been in this part of the world.” He lifted an unlit torch, stood and went to the torch in the wall, lighting the new one off the old.

“Is that all there is?” Xin swallowed, scrambling to her feet.

“Hmm?” He strode across the room, lifting the torch above his head. Xin followed at a distance. She didn’t want to wake up Rale.

“Duty, is that all there is to you?”

“Mostly.” He glanced down at her then pointed to the mural and set the fresh torch in the empty holder beside the mural. He stepped back, staring up at the wall.

“Mostly?” Xin shook her head. “I would’ve expected to hear tales of court gossip and exploits of the nobility.”

He looked at her and laughed “From Rale, from my brother or sister, yes you’d get an earful. I avoid it personally.”

“Why?”

“Court is a den of backbiting vipers. I don’t have the temperament for it.” He glanced her way. “As you pointed out, I’m a bad liar.” He tipped his head to one side and muttered an oath under his breath, going back to his travel packs. He returned with a folded and travel worn parchment. He lifted it up, eyes flickering back and forth between parchment and mural.

Xin looked at the mural, she’d always loved it. It was of woman holding her multicolored skirts in each hand in what may have been a curtsy. Her face was lost in the shadows and the plaster where her feet were had long ago crumbled. The skirt, though, was brightly colored, dotted with jewels, whispering of another time. Xin glanced at the parchment Tier was holding up and gasped, involuntarily stepping closer.

“You see it too?”

“It’s a map.” She looked up at him. “The mural’s a map!”

“It is, roughly. It’s missing some cities.” He pointed. “Lorn, Hagish, and the capital, and nothing is named. But look up there, those could be cities, they’re not on my map though. How old do you think this is?”

“I’m not sure. Matau had nothing to say about it.” Xin shrugged.

“Probably wasn’t exciting enough.” He said dryly.

Xin nodded, frowning. The colors on the skirt nibbled at her, reminding her of an old rhyme she’d been told long ago. She rubbed her forehead, trying to remember the words.

“Tier, that there,” she pointed to the parchment then to the equivalent on the mural. “That is Dhaul, right?”

“Yes.”

“It’s in blue, see? Delebeg is in brown…”

“So?”

“There was a song we used to sing as children, each elemental had a color assigned to them.” Xin said softly. “Earth was brown, air was white, water blue, fire,”

“Red.” He blinked looking at the map in his hands.

“It shows what regions the elementals occupied.” Xin looked up at him. “Might give you an idea of where you’re going to go next.”

Tier looked at her. “And where will you go?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She stared towards the mural. “I haven’t given it much thought yet.”

“Come with us.”

Xin swallowed, unable to meet his eyes. “And eventually meet the Seeress?” She forced herself to look at him. “Who is responsible, ultimately, for my mother being run out, for me being in exile?”

He looked away and shook his head. “I don’t know what to say.” He looked back at her. “My mission, my life depends on me being able to locate elementals, and take them back to her. I can’t change the rules.”

She looked up towards the mural. “What does she want with us?”

“She claimed it was to heal damage from the Elemental War.”

“Claimed?” She frowned. “You doubt it?”

He scowled. “Questioning her can be fatal.”

“I have to think about it.”

“We’d have to go to Delebeg,” Rale’s voice made her jump. “It’s a straight shot from here.”

“I hate the desert.” Tier said folding the parchment and moving back towards their bedrolls.

“Chiron is governor of Delebeg isn’t he?” Rale’s asked.

“He was last I heard. I don’t hear much from that area though. I know he had some sort of uprising near his northern borders.”

“And after Delebeg?”

“Depends on if we locate an Earth Elemental. There are a couple small towns north of Delebeg we can check. After that, I don’t know.”

Xin barely heard Rale’s reply, she studied the mural. There were other colors edging the skirt and then there was the odd blot in the south/bottom part of the dress. Nekar, home of the Seeress. Xin shuddered glancing towards the fire. The men were deep in conversation, discussing other possible places to go, neither seemed to notice her.

She drifted towards the entry, glanced back at the fire one last time before ducking into the now soggy courtyard. She felt the call of the water and struggled to resist it. Everything that had happened, the flash flood, the rocks, crashed down on her. She forced herself to breathe. She wasn’t going to cry, she wouldn’t let herself cry. What was the point?

Matau tried to kill her. She shouldn’t have been surprised, he was one of the first to run her mother out, but Xin was still having a hard time believing it. He would have killed her if Tier hadn’t stepped in the way. She owed him her life. That didn’t sit well with her.

Was that any better a fate than being stoned? It was Tier’s duty to find people like her and turn them over to the Seeress. And if he didn’t… Xin sighed. The seeress was not known for being understanding.

Tier intrigued her. He was the Seeress’s chosen seeker, like the stories whispered in the dunurch late at night. He would do her bidding, and according to the old ones, eventually die in her service.

None survived for long, the old men had said, few could stand being in the Seeress’s presence for long. Fewer still able to walk away from a mission unscathed. She leaned back against a large block that faced the front gates, and stared up at the stars peeking from the clouds. What in the world was she going to do? She pulled her legs up on the rock, wrapping her arms around her legs and propping her chin on her knees. She felt the tears, the sobs, the reality of her awful situation and pressed her forehead against her knees crying.

The storm of tears passed, and she shivered in the chill air. She needed to get back to her bedroll, get some sleep and try to decide in the morning where she was going to go. Something was draped over her shoulders, she looked up blinking in surprise. Tier was standing just an arm’s length away.

“It’s kind of cold out here.” He said adjusting the blanket he’d draped over her shoulders. “Are you alright?”

She shrugged staring up at the moon. “He tried to kill me. He would have too if you and Rale hadn’t…” She gripped the blanket tightening it around her shoulders.

She could almost feel how awkward he must be feeling. She pressed her forehead against her knees again fighting sobs. She felt his hand resting on her shoulder, attempted comfort from a man who would kill her in a heartbeat?

“Rale is asleep again.” He said, the tone of his voice had an odd timbre to it. “Come back inside where it is warmer.” he was gently rubbing her back, the soothing caress was making her drowsy.

“If I go with you, after all this is over, where will I go?” she whispered. She looked at him, barely a shadowy outline in the darkness.

“We’ll figure that out later. Right now you ought to get to sleep.”

“You too.” She said sharply, but she slid off the rock gripping the blanket.

“Possibly.” he said. He followed her back inside and Xin wondered what he saw that she didn’t. When she turned to ask she found herself spun back around to face the fire, his hands steel on her shoulders. “You don’t want to know what I see, Xin.”

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, July 3rd.

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

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

Thanks for reading. 🙂

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 6

This entry is part 06 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 6

The great Fortress of Dhaul loomed overhead, intimidating and dreary, casting a shadow and a chill over the road coiling towards its gate. Ancient towers spiraled up, their tips hidden in ever present dark and ominous clouds. Like the cracked, carved stones lining the road, they were silent sentinels of another time. An eerie testament of a long gone era.

“Matau told me that it was shaped out of the cliff, not carved nor built.” Xin said, her voice hushed. She nodded towards the fortress. “It was a trade, you see, the water users ended a drought in a northern kingdom, so in return the rock shapers came south and created the fortress for them. The entire summit is a palace.”

“I wonder why Nekar let the fortress fall into ruin. Especially after going to the trouble of aquiring it.” Rale murmured. Tier shrugged.

“General Dyrnos, or one of the history teachers in Lorn could tell you. I never paid that much attention.” Tier pointed at the moss covered stone pillars lining either side of the road, like soldiers ready to march into battle. “Would you want to have those things staring at you every day?”

Rale shook his head. “I don’t like to think our people would be superstitious enough to let that sort of thing bother them.” He patted one of the stones. “They’re just stone, after all.”

Tier shrugged. Every now and then, beneath the underbrush and twining around the pillars, he’d catch sight of wisps, clinging to the broken stones. Things watching them. Perhaps there was a connection between the ghosts and the stones? Part of him wanted to linger and inspect them, another part of him wanted to run as fast as he could.

“What are those stones, anyways?” Rale asked Xin, pointing to a nearby pillar. An ugly face was carved into its surface. “I’ve never seen anything like them before.”

“Matau called them Standing Stones, and said they were here before people came to Dhaul. No one knows what the language is, or who or what put them there. Come on, it’s getting late. I’d rather not be on the road at night.”

“Why not? Worries about ghosts?” Rale asked her.

“There are things that move around in the forest.” She motioned towards the trees. “Some say ghosts, or demons. I’ve never seen anything, but I’ve heard things.” She shuddered. “I prefer not to travel here at night.”

“What do you think, Tier? Think we’ll see anything?” Rale asked.

Tier tried to ignore his cousin’s jabbering.

“Tier sees ghosts.” Rale said. Tier glared at him. It wasn’t something to laugh or joke about. In the wrong company it could get him killed. He never talked about it and wished Rale wouldn’t. “When we were children he swore he saw bodies in the river near the Seeress’s Oracle.”

“Overactive imagination.” Tier said quickly. Xin was looking at him with a frown. “I was a child.”

“So,” she drawled. “You don’t see ghosts?”

“No.” He turned from her.

“The ghosts here are real, not imaginary. They get restless when people come up here.”

“Any idea why?” Rale asked.

Xin was quiet before answering. “The Nekarian army slaughtered everyone inside the palace, once the wall was breached. No one was spared. Elemental, non-elemental. Young, old, male female. It didn’t matter. Everyone died.”

Tier nodded. “That is what happens in war.”

“Their souls are still here.” She turned and continued up the path. “We’d better hurry before it starts raining again.”

Neither of the horses wanted to go anywhere near the front gates that towered over the trees. It took Rale and Tier quite some time to get them on the wide yard in front of the fortress. Xin perched herself on a rock, her knees drawn up under her. When they finally convinced the beasts that it wouldn’t hurt them the light was dimming in the sky. Tier couldn’t see any way to open the gates. He turned to Xin.

“How do we get in?” He asked. Before she could answer, Rale was pushing the reins in Tier’s hand, half stumbling toward the gate.

“Are you seeing this?” He turned, eyes wide. “It’s huge!”

“You, prince, are a horrible liar.” Xin said in a low voice. Tier blinked, looking down at her.

“Why do you say that?” He asked warily. She flashed a grin at him.

“Your eyes. The way you look in the forest, and at the Standing stones… you see the spirits here, don’t you?”

He gritted his teeth, saying nothing. She laughed.

“There are lots of ghosts here. Lots of things here. I don’t envy you.”

“How do we get inside?” He repeated the question. She eyed him, her eyes twinkling. She was laughing at him, he was certain of it.

She pointed towards the wall. “Along that wall is the breach that the Nekarian army used to take the castle.”

“Lets go then.”

Rale hurried over, taking the reins back, rambling about the fortress. The breach appeared to have some minor repair work, but it was never completed. It was wide, high, and both horses were convinced that there was an ogre on the other side, just waiting to eat them. Tier glanced over at Xin.

“Lead the way?”

She stepped through the breach, Rale on her heels. Tier swore under his breath, trying to get the horses through. Once on the other side, they calmed down, though their eyes were wide and their ears pricked forward. They would bolt the minuet he let his guard down.

He barely got a glimpse around, before Xin was directing him to an old stableyard. Once secured inside the horses calmed down and Tier rejoined Xin and Rale near a gaping doorway. The wind picked up as they stepped inside.

The room, an ancient hall, whispered of time. In the torchlight, Tier could make out broken swords, straw, and leaves blown in, littering the floor. The room was empty except for the large fireplace that dominated it. Tier made his way over, frowning at the remnants of a fire. It wasn’t very old. He glanced over at Xin.

“I thought you said people avoided this area.”

“They do.” She moved over and frowned, crouching by the fireplace. “Odd.”

“When you led the other lords up here,” Tier began.

“They wouldn’t come inside.” Xin said. She stood, setting her torch in a stone holder on one side of the fireplace. “Then they insisted on taking the road towards Delebeg.” she stared at the char. “It may have been bandits.”

“I thought you said bandits wouldn’t,” A loud crash drowned out the rest of Rale’s statement. He stared towards the back of the hall. “What was that?”

Tier stood, taking a visual survey of the lower room. Shapes were forming, hazy and indistinct, some were detailed most just the vague outlines of what they used to be. But all of them had the dark shadows for eyes.

“Tier, did you hear that?”

A rumble of thunder shook the palace. Tier almost jumped when he felt the touch to his arm. He looked down at Xin who was staring towards the way they’d come in, her hand rested on his arm. Warmth wiggled through him and he smothered it. Couldn’t read too much into it.

“Wind probably knocked something down my lord.” Xin said, looking sharply at Rale. She sounded as if she were trying to be cheerful. “Over by the entry is fire wood, why don’t you grab it so we can get a fire started.”

Rale nodded and Tier swallowed when his cousin turned and walked through several ghosts to get to the firewood.

“What do you see?” Xin whispered looking up at him.

“Be glad you don’t know.” Tier replied.

It didn’t take long to get the fire going. Xin enlisted Rale as her helper, ordering him to get things and cut up vegetables much to Tier’s amusement. It was, he thought, good for Rale to be away from the comforts of home. Maybe he might do more for himself.

“Why do I have to go get the water?” Rale asked belligerently. Xin looked up at him and his shoulders sagged. Tier was glad that he was not the only one affected by those large, innocent looking eyes. Xin was dangerous and knew it.

“My lord, have you ever cooked a meal before in your life?”

“No.”

“Then you go get the water.”

“You’re mean to him.” Tier said as his cousin stalked off. Xin glanced his way then back down to the makeshift cooking preparation area.

“I don’t have patience for a spoiled royal.” She didn’t meet his eyes. When Rale got back she was far less sharp with him, showing him how to add things to the small flat pot.

They ate in silence, setting up sleeping rolls on the floor near the fire. The storm raged outside. The thunder boomed, lightning lit up the room, shone through windows high up. With each flash he saw the pale figures, standing, staring. He swallowed. One in particular, a noblewoman or an ancient queen, got closer with each flash. He was certain the ancient spirit wasn’t moving. The ghost’s eyes glowed a bright silver, locked on him. He forced himself to lay back, to close his eyes and listen to the sounds of Rale and Xin talking in low voices.

You are not what you seem to be. The voice, hollow and wispy echoed inside his skull. His eyes shot open and saw the ghost floating above his feet. An unearthly wind blew her hair. Her face one minute was narrow, gaunt, with a timeless beauty to her, the next nothing more than a skull. These halls are not for you, Nekarian.

“Hey Tier, where do we go from here?” Rale asked from his sleeping bedroll.

“Hmm?” Tier blinked several times looking over at him. The ghost drifted between them.

“You were insistent on coming here, to Dhaul, now where to?”

“I’m not sure.” Tier shrugged, meeting the gaze of the ghost. “Seeress specified here but gave no suggestions about where we should go after here.”

The haunt stared at him, lips pursed. For a moment, in the flickering lightning he thought a twitch of a smile tugged at her ghostly lips. Then she was gone.
He stared towards the back wall, letting the icy tingles fade away. In the lightning strikes he realized there was a painting on the wall above the old dais. He half sat up frowning, waiting for the next lighting to strike.

“What is it?” Rale asked.

“There’s something painted on that wall.”

“It’s a mural.” Xin said. He looked over at her. She sat cross-legged, her hair down and over one shoulder. “In the light, when there aren’t storms you can get a better view.” She braided her hair quickly and then sat staring at the fireplace. Rale harrumphed and rolled over.

“Gotta sleep.” he muttered.

Tier laid back down half closing his eyes. They were in an unknown place, possibly dangerous. He would doze, but not be fully asleep. Years of training, habit and experience wouldn’t let him. Either way, when he dozed he dreamed; odd, disturbing dreams of both the Seeress and Xin.

When he woke, his heart was pounding loudly in his ears and he felt as if something had made a loud sound. He stared towards the doorway, listening to the rain pouring down outside. It took time before his body had unclenched enough for him to roll over to his other side. Xin was facing him, her eyelashes dark against her pale cheek. Tier bit back a curse and sat up staring into the darkness. The ghosts were gone, except for the queen hovering near the stairs.

He glanced back down at Xin and then to Rale, neither one had moved. He stood and carefully took the torch from its holder and crept over to the regal looking ghost. She smiled, half beauty half skull, turned and drifted up the stairs. He took one last glance towards Xin and Rale before following her up the old wide steps. She led him through the upper levels of the palace, down long ago forgotten passages finally ending up in what was once a wine cellar. She stopped over a black patch on the floor, staring at him.

What is it you seek here? Her voice echoed hollowly in his mind. He felt the presence of other spirits gathering in the room. Many, far more than he could actually see. The air grew chilled and he had to grit his teeth to keep them from chattering.

“Information.” He gritted out. A murmur went through the room, a ghostly whisper tinged with mockery. They didn’t believe him.

Liar. You seek other Elementals.
“Why ask me if you knew already?”

No elementals, besides your water girl, have come here in years. Perhaps they’re all dead.

“Perhaps they are just hiding. Where did the other old fortresses stand? Dhaul is the last I know of.”

The specter became harder even for him to see. Then she was gone. Tier swore under his breath. All the other spirits departed with a howl.

“Just like a ghost. Afraid.” The air in the room went chilly but the Queen did not reappear. Tier stared at the blackened spot on the floor. He looked around the room. Empty except for bits of blackened char and rocks.

There was a great battle here. The queen’s voice echoed in his mind again. For a moment he could hear the sounds of swords clashing, men yelling, the groans and screams of the dying and the relentless and endless clang of two great swords. Briefly he saw the two, fighting over the blackened flagstone.

No one remembers who they were, only that they hated each other, they fought each other and they killed each other right here.

Tier squinted and knelt beside the blackened stone, running his hand over the scorched block. There was a crack. He debated and pulled his belt knife out using it to slide between the flagstones and carefully pry it up. There was a large cache beneath the flagstone with a single small wooden chest. Tire lifted it, and felt a tingling, a release of an ancient ward.

The chest was simple, a basic latch with no lock kept it closed. Dark stains covered the lid and Tier was certain it was blood that had leaked down through the cracks. He replaced the flagstone and stood, finding himself face to face with the queen.

These are the only records left of that time. The queen moved through him and led him back up to the corridor at the top of the stairs. Be careful with them.

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thurs, June 26th.

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

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

Thanks for reading. 🙂

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 5

This entry is part 05 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 5

 

Thunder shook the small cabin, jolting Tier from an uneasy dream. He pushed himself up, glancing around the one room. The fire had burned down, leaving long shadows. He could make out the forms of Rale and the old man, and from the sound of it, neither were aware that there was a storm outside. Xin’s sleeping mat was empty. Thunder rumbled again and he got to his feet taking another glance around before ducking out the door, onto the porch. Xin was leaning against one of the posts, and glanced at him as he shut the door.

“The horses are still there,” she said motioning towards the shelter. “They don’t look too pleased.”

“They’re out of the rain, at least.” Tier said. Lightning flashed, and he could make out the shapes of the horses under the shelter.

“True.”

“The road’s on the other side of the stream, isn’t it?”

“Yes. The water runs off quickly, though. We’ll be alright.” She leaned on the railing. “This cabin has been here for a long time and has weathered many a nasty storm.”

“How often do you come up here?” Another flash of lightning illuminated the area and his skin prickled, hair was standing on end as icy fingers clawed up his spine. In the light of the flickering lightning, gathered on the edge of the clearing were the ghosts. Substantial, mostly formed. They were just staring at him with dark hollows for eyes. He ran an impatient hand through his hair, trying to look anywhere but at them, aware of Xin’s close scrutiny.

“When I can get away. It’s far more pleasant on the mountain than down in the village.” She turned towards him. “The next stretch is rough going, you might want to get back to sleep, your highness.”

He nodded looking back towards the stream. As the lightning flickered, he could see the stream, brim full of rushing water, and the insubstantial shapes drifting closer. He forced himself to breathe slowly.

“Shouldn’t you? Seeing as you are the guide?”

She laughed. “I could walk this trail with my eyes closed, your highness.”

“Drop the highness, please. It wears on the ears. I’m just Tier.” He leaned on the railing, staring towards the shapes. They’d rarely been this clear, it worried him. Was he going insane? Or did the Seeress do something to his head? He glanced at Xin. She’d tipped her head to one side.

“The other nobles we brought up here, reminded us all the time that they were ‘Lord’ whatever it was.” She looked towards the stream. “As if they’d break if they weren’t reminded that they were nobility.”

“Titles are an empty comfort.” Tier shrugged. “I’m not my title.”

She nodded slowly. “Goodnight, Tier.” She turned and went back inside.

He was about to follow her but hesitated, staring out at the wispy spirits drifting closer and wavering in the wind.

 

When he finally did get back to his mat it took some time to get back to sleep and his dreams were dark and confusing, fading away rapidly when he woke. Outside birds sang, the horses nickered, and the old man complained bitterly about his sore joints. Tier stared up at the rafters, listening. Xin snapped at the old man, though he couldn’t make out what she said, Matau snarled something back which was followed by a clattering of dishes.

“I wish that old man would lose his voice.” Rale groaned from his bedroll. Tier glanced over at him.

“Just another day, maybe two.” Tier pushed himself up, head feeling stuffed full of straw.

“How do we find out if she’s an elemental?” Rale asked in a low voice. “The old man…”

Tier shrugged. “I have no idea.” He was at a loss. How was he supposed to convince the young woman to leave everything and everyone she knew? He didn’t want to think about what might happen to her once he delivered her and any other elementals he might find, to the Seeress. Pressure against his mind, Xin was doing it again. He scrambled from beneath his blanket but the pressure stopped before he managed to get to the door. He needed to catch her using her powers. It was the only way he could think of to broach the subject.

With a sigh he resigned himself to pack things up. It took little time to repack the night gear and grab the saddles. Rale followed him, tousled and looking blearily around.

“Gods, the sun isn’t even properly up.” he groaned. Running a hand through his hair.

“Bad night?” Tier asked as he made his way over to the horses. Rale followed, hesitantly taking one of the saddles from Tier. Tier watched his cousin fumble with the saddle blanket, pleased. At least he was trying to help instead of complaining. Perhaps there was hope for the nobleman after all.

“Dreams. We were back in the Oracle and the Seeress clawing through my head.” Rale grunted as he lifted the saddle to the horse’s back. “Every time I tried to sleep, it was the same thing. I can still feel it.” He pulled on the girth strap and stepped back with a satisfied grin. The grin turned to a frown as the saddle slid around the barrel of the horse, hanging upside-down. The horse grunted, swinging his head to look at Rale. Tier swallowed a chuckle, patting his cousin’s shoulder.

“Good, for a first try.” Tier moved over to the horse, showing Rale how to fix it.

Laughter from the cooking fire startled him. Tier glanced at Xin, who crouched by the fire, grinning at them.

“Do you realize how backwards that is?” She asked standing up with two plates in hand. “The prince teaching someone how to saddle a horse.” She handed Rale one of the plates.

“Hey, I’ve never done this before, I’ve always had…” Rale halted, blinking several times. Staring at the plate she handed him. “Eggs? Where’d you get eggs?”

Xin handed Tier the other plate. “Bird nest, kind of lucky, I thought all the birds had already hatched their eggs.”

Rale looked down at the eggs, prodding them with one finger. “These were going to hatch?”

“If I hadn’t gotten to them? Yes, most likely.” She smiled at him. “Enjoy.”

Tier hastily made his way to the porch, snickering at the horrified look on Rale’s face.

“He would be helpless if he were out here by himself.” Xin commented as she went back to the fire. Tier watched her. Water user, cook, guide, smartass. For a brief moment he wondered what she would look like in finery befitting a Lady of the court and squashed that thought. With her large blue-gray eyes, pale complexion, and dark hair, he had no doubts she would catch the attention of most of the nobles. Just the idea made him uneasy. He ate his food silently, forcing himself to look at anything, anywhere but their guide and her grandfather who scowled at him from his seat across the fire.

“Knowing that a little bird was going to hatch from this…” Rale said as he came over perching himself on one side.

“Rale, eat it, and be glad it isn’t boot leather.” Tier advised.

 

The road twisted around old washouts, downed trees, and boulders that had been carried from higher up the mountain by flash floods. Matau and Xin led them up to a steep gully gashed into the mountain. The road ran along the side of it.

“Come on.” Matau growled limping down the bank and into the gully itself. He half turned scowling at them. “What are you waiting for?”

Tier glanced towards Xin. She was rooted on the bank, looking up the gully.

“Matau, let’s go to the bridge up further. It’d be safer.” She pointed at the dark clouds higher up the mountain. “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

“It would take longer, Xin. I’m tired, that road is rockier than this stream bed. Come on.” Matau was almost to the middle of the gully. Rale stepped into it. Tier glanced back at Xin.

“He’s right. It is faster.” She looked up the gully. “I hate it when he’s right. Come on.”

“You don’t look like you believe he’s right.” Tier said. She looked at him, nibbling her lower lip.

“Just be cautious.” She shrugged and picked her way down the bank into the gully. Tier glanced towards the clouds and followed.

They’d almost reached the point Matau said they’d need to climb to get back to the road when he heard a low rumble. Xin swore.

“Get out of the stream, now!” She stood in the center of the gully, staring up the stream. Tier was aware of the others scrambling up the bank. Water rushing downstream made the ground rumble beneath his feet. Tier grabbed the young woman’s arm intending to haul her up the river bank, but she batted his hand away.

“It won’t hurt me.” She mumbled, barely audible over the roar of the water. Tier stared at the water, mind numb. Xin lifted a hand, palm facing the wall of water. “Stop.”

The water paused, rippling. Tier blinked several times, aware of Rale yelling from the bank.

“Go around.” Tier barely heard her say it, but the water lurched to their right, pouring around them, taking the rocks, trees and other debris with it. Tier backed towards the bank, tugging at Xin’s arm. She stepped backward, hand still out, not looking away from the water.

“You’re a water elemental!” Rale said in a hushed voice when they joined him and Matau on the road.

Xin lowered her hand, her face pale as she looked at the old man.

“You…” Matau’s voice wavered. “You’re just like your mother.”

Tier rested his hand on the Xin’s shoulder. He didn’t need her running off now, they’d never be able to find her, she knew the area too well.

“Are you going to dispense justice then?” Matau, glared openly at Tier. “You should! She’s an elemental!”

“She’s your grandaughter!” Rale exclaimed, stepping towards the old man.

“That didn’t stop him when he went after my mother.” Xin looked up at Tier.

Matau swore. “You’re no kin of mine!” He threw the bag of coins to the ground at her feet.

“Matau,” Xin’s voice tugged at Tier.

“She just saved our lives, old man.” He snapped. Matau raised his walking stick, using it to point at Tier.

“The laws you enforce, that your people laid upon us, must be kept! How long before she does something to kill one of us? They’re inhuman, possessed!” He turned, waving his cane. “Get you gone, your highness, and take the demon with you. I have no granddaughter. I had no granddaughter!”

Tier dropped his hand.

“Are you going to kill me then?” She turned, looking at him. She crossed her arms.

“We actually,” Rale faltered, looking back and forth between them. “Uhm…”

“I need your help.” Tier said cautiously. She was glancing toward the trees, planning to make a run for it. He didn’t want to frighten her into running off. A crazy part of him wanted her to willingly go with them.

She frowned at him. “What kind of help?”

“I’ve been ordered by the Seeress to locate elementals.” The silence was broken only by the horses and the distant voice of the old man cursing them all.

“Why?”

“She didn’t say.” Tier glanced towards stream.

“You don’t question the Seeress. You do as she says.” Rale said quickly. “We’re supposed to find one of each, and bring them back to her.”

“And then what? What happens to them?” Xin looked back and forth between them.

“I don’t know.” Tier admitted. She looked away.

“If I go with you…”

“Just a traveling companion.” He watched her expression flicker from wary to angry, concerned, frightened. “I still need to get to the fortress.”

“Why?”

“Orders.” He said it before he thought, but he felt a twinge in his mind. Had his mind been tampered with? The Seeress was crawling around in his head back at the oracle. Had she left orders? He inwardly shuddered at the thought. Xin frowned at him. Tier didn’t flinch, didn’t look away. A loose strand of her hair had come loose from the bun, and fell across her face. It was distracting. He resisted the urge to push it behind her ear.

“I’ll go with you, as far as the fortress.” She said. She turned, pushing the offensive strand back behind her ear, and glanced back at him. “We keep following the road, gentlemen.”

Rale handed him the bag of coins Matau dropped. “That didn’t quite go as planned.”

Tier glanced at his cousin. “We had a plan?”

Rale scowled. “Figuratively speaking.” He led his horse past Tier.

Tier watched Xin for a moment, fascinated by the way she moved; the sunlight on her hair. He smothered a sigh. He was distracted. He couldn’t afford to be distracted. Not with the Seeress breathing down his neck, not with an impossible mission to complete. He took a few steps, still watching her, his horse butting his shoulder impatient to get moving.

“I’m an idiot.” he muttered under his breath.

 ~*~

 

The next chapter will be posted Tues, June 24th.

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

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 4

This entry is part 04 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 4

The old fortress road snaked back and forth up the side of the mountain, doubling back on itself several times. It was overgrown with pines, conifers, and an assortment of underbrush Tier was unfamiliar with. The road leveled out for about a quarter of a league before coming to a large pillar with carvings in a language he’d never seen before. The road they were on continued, disappearing over a rise. A smaller road, little more than a game trail shot off from the main one, twisting up the steep rise.

“What do those markings mean?” Rale asked Xin. She glanced toward the pillar and shrugged.
“I have no idea.” She pointed towards the game trail. “We go that way.”

Rale groaned. The trees were so close together and the branches so low they’d have to dismount and lead their horses through.

“Why?” He asked. Tier shook his head.

Xin half turned. “You want to get to the fortress, correct?” She pointed. “It’s at the top of the mountain. This is the only road to it.”

“The other road…”

“Takes you to Delebeg, past the path of the bandits.” The old man said, his voice impatient. “Xin, Slow down.”

Tier choked back a chuckle when the woman increased her pace.

“What was that Matau? I can’t hear you.” She paused by a tree and leaned against it. She inclined her head as Tier got closer.

“Enjoying yourself?” he asked. She shrugged.

“When he starts complaining, you’ll want to put as much distance between your ears and his mouth as you can.” she said, glancing towards Rale and Matau.

“You might want to give them a hand. That horse isn’t going to cooperate.”

Tier sighed, looking back. The old man and Rale were unsuccessfully trying to move the horse past a tree leaning over the trail. The beast was having none of it, jerking his head and pulling back. Tier handed the reins of his horse to Xin and picked his way back down the trail, removing his cloak as he went. When he reached the horse, he gently slid it over the frightened beast’s eyes from behind. The horse stiffened, body trembling and Tier spoke to it, taking the reins from Rale and urging the beast forward. It took a hesitant step forward, then another. Once they were past the tree stump he removed the cloak and handed the reins back to Rale.

“Show off.” Rale grumbled. Tier barely cast a glance his way, climbing back up the path. Xin was staring, wide eyed at his horse who was nuzzling at her.

“Is it going to bite me?” she whispered hoarsely.

Tier took the reins and shook his head. “No. He’s just being friendly.” He took a couple steps up the trail, glancing down at her. Her eyes were still wide. “Are you coming?”

Her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched. She pushed from the tree, moving past him and his horse, shooting him a dark look. He waited till she passed him to smile.

She wasn’t joking about Matau’s complaining. Everything was subject to being bitched about. From the weather, to the village to Nekar, and even the Seeress, the man was both a drain on the ears and well of information. Though most of it was twenty years old and the subjects were long dead and buried. His voice echoed off the trees and rocks as they neared the sheer cliffs at the base of the mountain, the shadows growing long and the sky turning a pale orange.

Against the base of the cliff was a small cabin facing the narrow stream. Tall pines blocked out much of the sky on the sharp slope, far too thick to see through. Tier took over taking care of the horses as his guides prepared the dinner. Rale hovered by the food, as if unsure of what to do next. Tier paused in his ministrations of the horses to watch Xin hand Rale a deep pan and told him to get some water. The silence was telling.

Rale stared at her, glancing down at the pan in his hands and looked back up at her.

“What?” She rested her hands on her knees, crouched and balancing on the balls of her feet. “The stream is right over there, go fill that.”
“Me?” His voice spoke volumes.

Xin narrowed her eyes, shooting a look at Tier. “Is he kidding?”

Tier shook his head, pulling the saddle and sweat soaked saddle blanket from Rale’s mount. “You should have seen the look on his face the first night we had to sleep on the ground.”

She looked back at Rale. “You walk over to the stream, dip the pan in it then bring it back here, full of water.”

Rale turned stiffly, shooting some very ugly looks Tier’s way, and did so. Tier finished with Rale’s horse, moved on to his, only half listening to the endless complaining of the old man. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a pale mist, drifting between the trees just beyond the treeline. His horse and Rale’s stilled, nickering softly, ears flicking back and forth. Tier ignored it, focusing on his horse, a fine war-bred beast that had taken him through many a battle.

He couldn’t avoid seeing it when he returned to the cabin with the saddles. Up the path they were to take in the morning, tendrils of mist crept down, towards the clearing. He hesitated on the porch. On either side of the path were old stones, carved in a similar fashion to the crossroads pillar. The mist kept distance from the stones. Deeper in the forest, as the shadows grew even longer, he saw the silvery shapes forming, and more mist crept down the path. He forced himself to look towards the stream, to ignore the tendrils of mist creeping into the clearing.

“Tier can I have a word with you?” Rale asked, he looked a touch disgruntled.

“Having fun?”

Rale snorted. “Why do we need guides?” he hissed. “You’re more than capable of getting us to the Fortress.”

Tier glanced towards the fire where Matau crouched, setting the tri-legged spider over the crackling flames. Xin handed him things to put into the pot. Her braided hair hung over one shoulder the end just above the dirt and she fiddled with it absently, staring back the way they’d come.

“The Seeress wanted us to start our search here, for a reason.” Tier said slowly. He looked back at Rale. “I think she knew something.” Rale shook his head.

“You think she’s an elemental?”  He hissed. “You do, don’t you?”

Tier hesitated. “I think there’s a chance she is. You heard what the old man said, her mother was a water elemental.”

Rale nodded, glancing back at their guides. “How do we…” he trailed off and looked at Tier. “What do we do next?”

“I don’t know. Wait and see.” Tier shrugged and pushed into the cabin, setting the saddles on the floor just inside the door. “What else can we do?”

 

 

 ~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, June 17th.

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

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

 

 

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 3

This entry is part 03 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 3

The modest two level house sat atop a steep bluff overlooking the village to the south and the ocean to the east. A path along the side of the cliffs led to the beach below. In the back of the house was a small building and a grove of trees. Xin met them on the porch, nodding and pointing around back.

“The barn is back there, gentlemen.” She said meeting Tier’s gaze.

“Xin.” Matau’s voice was wearing on Tier’s ears. The man rattled on about people and scandals that meant nothing to him.

“This way.” Xin motioned them to follow, stepping from the porch without a glance back. She led them to the shed, which was surrounded by a fence in dire need of repair.

“Does he always talk that much?” Tier asked. Xin glanced up and him and grinned.

“Just think, your highness, three or four days of that.”

“Gods help us.” Tier muttered.

“Try living with it.” She snickered.

Tier led the horses into the small yard, making sure it was going to be secure enough. With the talk of bandits he wondered if there were any reports of raids. Behind him, Rale was attempting some small talk. Tier shook his head, his cousin had a lot to learn about traveling incognito.

“This place could use some work.” Rale commented.

“Matau’s too old to do the repairs, he won’t let me do it, and no one will come do them for us.” Xin shrugged. “So it falls apart.”

“Why won’t any anyone come up to help?” Rale asked. Xin stared at him. “Is it too far up the hill?”

Tier turned back to his horse, pulling the saddle and blanket from it’s back, and giving him a good scratch. The warhorse grunted, appearing to enjoy the attention. He listened for Xin’s response. The silence stretched, broken only by the nickering of the horses.

“None of your business.” Xin said.

Tier glanced around in time to see her walking back across the yard to the house. He frowned. It started sprinkling as they were coming up the hill, yet her clothes were dry. He stared. He wasn’t exactly soaked, but was a bit more moist than he liked. Xin’s clothes weren’t even wet. He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“I was just trying to be friendly.” Rale said, interrupting his thoughts.

“After insulting her in the dunarch? Not a wise move, Rale.”

Rale opened his mouth then closed it. Tier shot him a dark look and pointed towards the other horse, still saddled. “It’s your turn to take care of your horse.”

They set their packs on shelves in the entry and stepped into the main room. It was cozy, a table set against a window, and a couple of wicker chairs. Against the back wall was a steep set of stairs going up to the upper level. Over near the stove were two simple narrow cots with coarse wool blankets folded neatly beside thin pillows. Matau took a seat at the table and motioned them over. Sitting in front of him was a large sand tray which he tapped. Tier smiled, he’d seen these in other out-laying regions of the empire, a tray about a finger deep that was used to draw out maps. Parchment, paper, those things were for the elite, the rich. Far too expensive for the commoners.

“This is the path up the mountain,” Matau used a gnarled finger to draw in the sand. “It gets steep and winds through trees and by cliffs.”

“And the bandits?” Rale was asking.

“Some say they live in caves near the Vourn road that takes you to Delebeg.” Matau said. “They avoid the Keep itself, but will attack anyone who looks like they’d be carrying anything of value.” He peered at Rale. “The keep is haunted, and they usually avoid it.”

“That’s what you said.” Rale looked doubtful.

“Aye, and it’s true! The spirits are not friendly, not happy.” Matau sniffed. “Most men disbelieve until they’re faced with the vengeful souls of the keep.”

“Some say the ghosts get hungry at night.” Xin added in a dramatic voice, passing by with a couple travel bags. She tossed them into the entryway and wiped her hands. “They say at night, you can hear the screams the murdered souls.”

“Murdered?” Tier asked.

“When Nekar took the Keep.” Matau pinned an unfriendly look at him. “Many innocents died that day.”

“Pshaw, superstition.” Rale snorted. “They probably just heard the wind in their sleep.”

“There are far too many accounts of the ghosts, my lord, for it to be just superstition.” Xin said with a sniff.

“I was taught that Dhaul was the seat of power for the Water Elementals back before the Elemental war.” Tier said. “That was generations ago.”

“True. But their legacy lives on, your highness. In the descendants of the survivors.” Matau stabbed a finger in the direction of the mountain. “They ruled from up there. They say that in the valley and along the coast, there were never floods nor droughts. Always enough rain, not too much, not too little. And they joined the other elementals in battling against the Seeress. That’s why the Nekarian Emperor attacked. The elementals were far too dangerous and conspiring against the Seeress. So they came and wiped out the elementals.” He sniffed. “They’re all gone now, no more elementals. Funny, last year a couple men came from Nekar asking about the fortress and the Elementals.” He peered at them, brows pulling together. “You aren’t looking for any, are you?”

“They’re extinct. You could look your whole life and not find any. Right?” Tier asked sitting back.

“Mostly.” The old man leaned forward, his voice dropping to a conspirators whisper. “But every few generations one will crop up. Oh we find them, eventually. They can never hide for long. When we do, we dispatch them.” He leaned back nodding.

“Dispatch?” Rale frowned. “Kill them, you mean.”

“Nekarian law.” Xin said softly. “No elementals are allowed to live. Surely you of all people are aware of this.”

Rale opened his mouth and closed it again. He looked baffled. Tier almost felt sorry for him.

“Rules are the rules. In fact,” Matau gave a bark of humorless laughter, pointing in Xin’s direction. “Her mother was one.”

Tier looked at her startled. She scowled but met his gaze. The rain hadn’t touched her. Could she be a water elemental?

“They chased her out of town with rocks.” She said blandly. “Swift justice, though they couldn’t catch her.”

“What happened to her?” Tier asked.

“She went into the sea and never came back out.” Matau sniffed again. “They say there are other elementals. That they crop up in the old regions their ancestors were from.”

“Interesting.” Tier tried to feign indifference. Xin was staring at him with narrowed eyes.

“So you are just going to look at the Keep?” She asked.

“Imperial business.” Rale said quickly. “No need to worry.”

“Imperials? On the road with no guards? I’m still finding that hard to understand” She said. “Isn’t it a bit dangerous for imperials, especially the royal household, to travel without a guard?”

“Have you ever heard of the Youskin Charge?” Rale asked, a touch of aggravation in his voice. He pointed at Tier. “He doesn’t need a guard.”

Xin’s eyebrows arched as she looked at him. “Impressive.”

“You don’t seem that impressed.” Rale said petulantly. Tier chuckled, he couldn’t help it.

“Rale,” Tier began.

“Should I be milord?” Xin leaned forward. “Aside from traveling like poor peasants…”

“Xin.” Matau barked.

“Yes Matau?” She asked sweetly, wide eyed. They locked gazes in what Tier guessed was a frequent contest.

Matau glared. “Are the provisions ready?”

“I think so.” She leaned against the counter and addressed them, looking at Tier as she spoke. “It’s a day and a half up the mountain to the Fortress, I could walk it in my sleep. But if you don’t know the way, you’ll never find it. The old roads have been overgrown, the new ones aren’t well traversed in this area, and the bandit issue is very real. They usually stay on the other side of the keep, but they have been known to come closer to the village. I hope you know how to use the swords you wield, you’re going to need them.”

Tier kicked Rale before he could jump on the comment. She was being serious.

“How do you manage?” He asked.

“They’ve never bothered me.” She shrugged.

“They’re still afraid of her mother.” Matau added. Xin rolled her eyes.

“At least they look the part of the seasoned travelers, unlike the last two. Well at least he does.” she nodded towards Tier. She looked at Rale. “He’d be dragon fodder…”

“Xin.” the warning tone from Matau. She flashed a smile at them. “I suggest you get some sleep gentlemen. It’s a steep walk. Goodnight Matau, gentlemen.” She turned and made her way towards the stairs.

Tier watched her and looked back at the sand tray, barely hearing Rale and Matau. When they finished Tier excused himself, to check on the horses and to think.

The rain had stopped, and the clouds thinned. Down the hill the village was quiet and dark. In the distance waves crashed onto an unseen beach. The rising moon cast dark shadows, giving the place an eerie, abandoned air.

Towering above him, a great dark shadow against the velvet sky, was the ancient Fortress of Dhaul, hereditary home of the Water Elementals. Except for the odd phenomena of no water on Xin, nothing he’d seen indicated the presence of any elementals in this region. Not in the other villages they’d passed through, not in this one. Why had the Seeress pointed him in this direction? He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

This was crazy. He’d been taught from childhood that there were no more elementals, he’d never given the rumors he’d heard a second thought. It wasn’t possible, everyone knew that. Yet the Seeress said there were hidden elementals. Hiding and waiting to strike. If there were, why hadn’t his tutors told him about it? They taught what the Seeress taught them. It didn’t make sense, none of it did. If he hadn’t given his word he’d walk away from it. But he had, and it was far different thinking back of the meeting with the Seeress than it was being there.

He was about to go back to the house when he heard a sound. A door opening, perhaps? A figure darted from behind the house and down the narrow pathway towards the bluff. He followed at a distance, silently. It was Xin, and she made her way down the path as one who had done so many times. He hesitated following her as she went towards the beach. A rendezvous perhaps? Secret lover? He shook his head. None of his business. He was about to go back to the house when he felt something, a pressure pressing against his head, a ripple through his mind. Similar to what he’d felt in the Seeress’s presence. He halted, trying to pin point where it came from.

He felt it again, coming from the direction of the beach. He crouched, edging toward the bluff, looking down at the beach. She had dropped the cloak, her long skirt and pale shirt glowing in the moonlight. She reached up and fiddled with her hair, which fell loose. Tier felt the sensation again and for a brief moment it looked like a wave surged upwards towards her, hesitated a heartbeat, then crashed against the sand. Tier scooted closer shaking his head.

“Impossible.” He startled himself saying it aloud. His heart pounded and he half expected her to turn around and see him, though he was certain he hadn’t been heard over the crashing waves. The water did it again. And again, each time accompanied by the pressure in his head. He didn’t know how, but he was certain Xin was controlling the water.

The realization crashed over him. She was a water elemental. His mind went numb. By law he should have her put to death. By the Seeress’s command he needed to convince her to go with him and Rale. He watched her as she lifted her arms over her head again, a large circular blob of water lifted and then floated through the air, matching the movements of her hands. He should be repulsed, put off, angered but instead he watched fascinated. He shook himself, crept back to the house.

He hesitated in the entry, gathering himself, trying to sort his thoughts. When he joined Rale at the table, his cousin frowned at him. Asking him where he’d been. Tier just shook his head, Matau’s unfriendly gaze on them. Their guide was a water elemental, and he had no idea how to convince her to accompany them.

 

~*~

The next chapter will be posted Thursday, June 12th.

If you’re enjoying it, please share, spread the word, I’d appreciate it. Thanks for reading. :)

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

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Elemental Truth – Chapter 2

This entry is part 02 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 2

 

It took them three weeks traveling along the southern trading route to get to the coast of Lorn. Another three weeks of travel, following the winding north road, brought them to the village of Dhaul. Once guarded over by the Fortress of Dhaul, a center of commerce, it had dwindled to a modest fishing village nestled between the ocean and the towering Dhaulation Mountains. The steep foothills looked, from a distance, blanketed by a sea of soft greens.

The village itself clustered around the old trading route road which switched from paved road to wide dirt path, winding through the southwestern territories of Nekar. In the center of the village was the market. Central hub of activity. Locals spread their wares to sell, hoping to catch the attention of the rare passersby. Tier stopped by a wagon filled with assorted fruits and vegetables, and glanced around. Though the villagers were continuing their usual activities, they were all watching him and Rale closely. Tier sighed. They were supposed to look for elementals here?

“Is that the fortress?” Rale pointed towards the southern granite face that towered over the valley. Tier could make out towers brushing the underside of dark clouds. He turned to the merchant, but the man was already speaking.

“We’ll have rain before nightfall, gracious lords.” He lifted a fruit, offering it to Rale. “Fruit’s the first off the tree, the very best!”

“What is that?” Rale took the fruit.

“Starfruit, only grows in this region.” Tier said absently. “How much?”

“For you, gracious lord, ’tis free.” The man bowed.

“I can’t take your wares without proper payment, good sir.” Tier pulled a coin out. “It’s not fair to you.”

The man’s eyes widened at the sight of the coin. “I will take no payment, gracious lord, but a donation would not be refused.”

“A donation then.” Tier handed him the coin and motioned toward the mountains. “Is there a pathway up to the Keep?”

The merchant frowned, tucking the coin into an inner pouch of his coat. “There is, but the way is dangerous, and overgrown. The imperials stopped patrolling that section of the road. There is a guide, though, he takes in travelers and takes people up the road. He’s never lost anyone.”

“Where would we find him?” Tier glanced around, the curious stares of the nearby villagers was unnerving, they needed to get out of sight before things turned ugly.

“Well, there is a dunurch up the road.” The merchant pointed. “The guide can often be found there. He’s a surly gossip, though.”

“I’ll consider myself warned.” Tier inclined his head as the merchant bowed, and steered Rale back towards the horses.

“A what?” Rale hissed as they walked away.

“A dunurch, it’s something like a restaurant or eating hall.” Tier said, glancing around the seemingly busy road. They had no guards, nothing to hint that they were more than just travelers passing through. The villagers sensed they were different. Eyes followed their every move. Tier untied his horse and motioned Rale to follow.

“They’re nosy.” Rale said.

Tier nodded. “We’ll stop at the dunurch and figure out where to go from here.”

“Do you have any idea what we are looking for?”

Tier shook his head and was several steps in front of Rale before he realized his cousin had halted. He half turned.

“Then what are we supposed to do?”

“We’ll discuss it over dinner.” Tier glanced around. “We’re drawing a crowd out here.”

He ignored Rale’s grumbles behind him. His cousin didn’t grasp the necessity of keeping his head down. He was far too used to the perks of his station. Tier doubted he’d ever traveled without an entourage or guard, except for the trip to the Oracle. In the outlaying provinces of the Empire, unless there was a guard, it wasn’t wise to announce your affiliation with the Imperial household. Resentment still ran deep. Though it had been over four hundred years since the storming of the fortress and the acquisition of Dhaul into the Empire, these people could relate the battle account as though it happened yesterday.

The dunurch was unnamed, probably a meeting place everyone knew about. They tied up their horses and Tier led the way. It was a wide, circular building, round low tables with cushions spaced in a circular pattern. The Dunurch Keeper hurried over, a thin aging man who bowed low, staring at Tier for an uncomfortable moment before his eyes widened and blood drained from his face.

“Your…your highness…”

“Please, no titles. We just need a table and light.”

“This way, most gracious lords.” The man bowed and turned walking stiffly around tables.

The cushions were worn and stained. Tier glanced at Rale’s dubious expression and settled on his.

“They don’t bite Rale.” Tier said. Rale started to say something then shook his head and cringed as he lowered himself to the stained cushion.

“I should have told her no thanks.”

“Do you think she would have taken that answer?” Tier asked. The Dunurch Keeper set a tray with an elaborate silver teapot and several little silver cups.

“The meal is a tasis over grain and steamed vegetables, is this acceptable?” The man was actually wringing his hands together.

“Sounds great.” Rale made a dismissal gesture and leaned forward, squinting at the shiny table top. “It looks clean.”

“Rale.” Tier scowled as the Dunurch Keeper stiffly walked towards the kitchen.

“Tier this place is filthy.”

“Do you want to sleep in the rain?” Tier asked, pulling a map out of his vest.

“No.” Rale said after a long pause. “I don’t want to die of sickness from bad food though.”

Tier poured tea into a small cup and handed it to Rale. “Then be nice to the people who give you food, here. The Empire isn’t exactly trusted in the outer territories.”

“Hmm. What next?”

Tier poured himself some of the tea, sipping it and glancing around the dunurch. They were the only guests, aside from the young woman and an older man sitting in the far corner of the room, speaking low in the local in the local rough dialect. No threat. He unfolded the map and set the tea to one side.

“She sent us here for a reason,” He said, tapping the map.

“Why?” Rale leaned forward, voice hushed. “Our likelihood of returning home alive is not good, Tier. There are no…” He sat back as several plates were deposited in front of them. “There are no more…”

“There were rumors around Jaktor that there were pockets of elementals hiding north of the mountains.” Tier said. “I didn’t give them much thought, until meeting the Seeress.” He finished his tea, folded the map away and motioned to the plates of food. “This doesn’t look half bad.”

They ate quickly and spoke little. Regulars began filing in, lightning lit up the sky, and each time the door opened a rush of cool moist air accompanied the new guests. As the Dunurch Keeper cleared the table Tier watched the young woman and old man in the far corner; both looked uneasy as the tables around theirs filled up.

“Good sir,” Tier lifted his hand, catching the attention of the Dunurch Keeper. “we’re looking for guides up the mountain.” Tier said. The Dunurch Keeper gestured toward the pair in the corner.

“Matau and his granddaughter know the mountain paths to the Keep, and beyond, better than anyone else.” He said. “You’d be wanting lodging too?”

“There’s an inn?” Rale said. The man shook his head.

“Matau.” The Dunurch Keeper waved him over and turned back to them. “He’s a gossip and Xin is a bit strange. But they have taken many up the mountain to the fortress and back safely and they take in lodgers. They’re the only ones who will.”

Tier nodded, watching the pair make their way over. The old man leaned heavily on his cane while the young woman followed behind at a distance. Her blue-gray eyes flickered over Tier and Rale, not quite meeting his gaze, before looking towards the Dunurch Keeper. Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun with two carved wooden hair-sticks in it. Though not very tall, there was something very peculiar about the way she stood, hands gripping the hem of her too-large tunic. She glanced back up, meeting Tier’s gaze then looked away. Oddly shaped blue eyes and the pale skin, Tier was intrigued. She didn’t fit in.

“Tis too late to go up the mountain.” The old man said, his words slurred. He settled on a cushion with a grunt, jabbing at the cushion between him and Tier. “Xin, sit.” She sat, keeping her eyes lowered.

“Shall I bark too, Matau?” She asked, her voice low.

“Hush, girl. The road to the fortress is steep, and dangerous.”

“Howso?” Rale asked.

“Bandits, spirits, wild animals.” Matau shrugged.

“How long do you plan on staying up in the Fortress?” Xin asked.

“A day or two,” Tier shrugged. “Then on to Delebeg.”

The Xin and Matau exchanged a dubious look. “There are outlaws in the forests beyond the fortress. Since there are so few Imperial Patrols in this area, they gather in those mountain passes, robbing those passing through.”

“Tier…” Rale began. Their perspective guides gasped in unison.

“Prince Tier?” Xin asked, staring at him with wide eyes. Tier inclined his head, shooting a dark glare at Rale. He was going to have some strong words with his cousin. She shook her head. “What is an imperial Prince doing in the backwoods sticks of the empire? Without a guard?”

“None of your business, girl.” Rale snapped.

“Personal curiosity.” Tier said. They needed these two, to guide them up the mountain. He’d rather have a guide than fumble through unknown, possibly hostile territory.

Xin’s eyes narrowed. “If we’re going to be guiding both your lordships up the mountain, knowing who we’re dealing with is my business, my lord.” She leaned forward, pinning Rale with an unfriendly stare. “I’m not going to risk my neck if you two are going to put us in danger, I don’t care who you are. Your highness.”

“Xin.” Matau rested his hand on her shoulder, knuckles white. “Go make sure the cots are prepared for our esteemed guests.”

She looked at him, her expression hard. She stood, gave a stiff bow, and left.

“Forgive my granddaughter, she has a sharp tongue.” Matau sighed. “However, she’s right, your lordships. Is the danger worth the coin?”

“Our business will bring neither you nor your people danger, good sir. ‘Tis a personal interest in the fortress that brings us here.” Tier said smoothly.

“It’s a day and a half one way. There is a small cabin on the side of the mountain we stay in overnight. The weather is changeable.”

“Your price?” Rale asked.

Matau named an amount and Rale made a noise that Tier wasn’t sure if he was amused or annoyed. Tier nodded.

“Half now,” Tier set the money on the table. “Half on our arrival at the fortress.”

Matau’s eyes narrowed. He hit the table with a fist. “Done.”

 ~*~

The next chapter will be posted Tues, June 10th.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix

There might be some formatting adjustments as I figure this out, please bear with me.
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