Elemental Heir : Book 1 Of The Elemental Heir Series

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Chapter 54



“You’re telling me that the rune is inside of this... rock?" I asked awkwardly, examining the black, lumpy stone in my hands.

“Your mother and father were very clear that the rune was to be kept safe and that it was of extreme importance to keep it hidden. We could think of no better way to hide it and keep it from harm than to encase it in a stone.” The Kadoma in front of me explained.

“You said that I’d proven myself... What did you mean by that?” I asked quietly, flipping the stone over in my palm.

“Why does it matter? We’ve given you the rune, just as we promised we would. Now, go in peace...”

“Just as you promised my parents you would... So, they told you that I would come and I would somehow prove myself to you? Is that it?”

“They said that you would have the ability to kill us... But that you would choose not to.”

I sighed in frustration. “But how could they know that? They never knew me...”

“I do not know... Your questions are tiresome. I’ve given you the rune, now leave my forest."

I lifted my eyes to meet the strange tree’s face. “I find it intriguing how my parents got you to help them without being killed in the process. From what I know of your kind, and what I experienced here today, you’re not the most welcoming of creatures.”

The trees and body-less spirits around me hissed with quiet laughter.

The tree before me bent slightly at the trunk, bringing it’s ominous face closer to mine. “Yes... Yes, that’s an astute observation, young one. Now, for the final time, we’ve given you the rune and fulfilled our role. Your welcome has reached its end.”

I stood my ground. “But why did you agree to play a role at all? I want to know why you helped them.”

"Why does it matter?” The tree hissed with impatience.

I took a bold step closer. “Because I want to build an alliance between all of the magical beings that haven’t yet been wiped out by the human king. I want to build a new empire, one with all races united.”

Silence stretched around us.

The trees stood as still as death.

“I want to defeat the king. I want to send him and his armies where they belong... And the Kadoma would be a very powerful ally to have on my side. If you were willing to help my parents, I want to know why. And I want to know how I can gain your favor, too.”

I waited while the Kadoma stared at me.

After a long moment, the tree in front of me let out a low chuckle. “How do you expect to bring down the king and his numerous armies?” It whispered. “Your parents failed. What makes you think you won’t?”

I smiled slowly as I lifted the rock he’d given me and held it beside my face. “Because they left me this so I could finish what they started.”

The tree stood up straight, it’s eyes never leaving my face. “We helped your parents because we owed them a debt. That is the only reason. And now, that debt is repaid.”

I blinked up at the Kadoma. “If you were in their debt, then they must have done something for you. Perhaps I could do the same in order to gain your assistance.”

“Assistance with what, exactly?” The tree hissed.

A slow smiled spread across my lips. “I need your help protecting the human villages.”

The trees and ghostly spirits around us began to whisper in speculation.

The tree stared down at me. “You want us to protect humans? They hate the magical beings of this land. Why would you want to protect them?”

I lifted my chin. “They have been fed lies about our kind for years. Lies, fed to them by the human king. He has them all convinced that we are murderous monsters so that no one will object to his efforts to kill us into extinction. He controls his people with fear so that he can look like the hero, when in realty he is the murderous monster. And now that Dristan and I have disappeared from under the Kong’s nose, he is searching the lands for us. He’s threatening, torturing and killing humans in an attempt to find us. They only hate us because they’ve been led by his lies. They are innocent and they need protection.”

“And you think protecting them will somehow fix everything? The years and years of hatred will simply evaporate overnight?” The tree growled.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction. It will take time. When the human king and his followers are gone, I plan to make peace with the humans. I will help those who are starving and living in poverty. I will help rebuild their villages as well as the Fae lands. I will create an empire where every magical being and human can live together in peace.”

The whispers and laughter died out as I spoke. Slowly, the agitation in the air shifted. Instead of unwelcoming energy, I could feel something else beginning to exude from the Kadoma...

Respect.

“And... What would you do for us in exchange for this service?” The tree asked carefully.

“What do you want?” I smiled.

“I doubt you could deliver.” The tree said sadly.

I narrowed my eyes.

“You see...” The tree continued. “Your father was a very powerful elemental. For many years, he came to us once a month and used his gifts to help us... In exchange, we agreed to let him cash in his favor with us when the time came. Whatever he needed, we would deliver. No questions asked.”

“And what did he do for you once a month?” I asked, curiosity raising my brows.

“Have you ever heard of the Lush Forest?” The tree asked eerily.

“No...”

“Of course you haven’t... it was far before your time... But believe it or not, this forest wasn’t always called The Black Forest. It was once known as The Lush Forest.” The tree said sadly. “It was bright, beautiful and thriving. It was full of wildlife, flowers, streams and song birds.... Quite the opposite of what it is today.”

I glanced around, my brows pulled together in confusion. There was no sign of sunlight. No sound, not even a squirrel or a bird. It was too dark to decipher if there were any flowers, but my keen nose could not detect any.

“Long ago, this forest was very much like it is now. Dark... empty... Until one day, your father came to us. He offered to bring life to our forest in exchange for a favor that we would give to him. He told us that he didn’t know what the favor would be, or when he would need it. Only that he wanted to have the option to use our help, should he ever need it. So, we agreed. He came to us once a month to make sure that our forest thrived. He used his influence over the earth element to keep the canopies thin so that sunlight could reach us. He made sure that there were plenty of plants, flowers, berries, and color. He kept our forest alive. When he cashed in our favor and asked us to keep the rune safe, we agreed with no question... He told us his child would come to retrieve it one day... Shortly after, he died, along with your mother... And without his help, the canopies grew thick and overgrown again. The sunlight stopped shining down upon us and all of the life that had once been here died out. The animals left... Everything has been dark since then. The Lush Forest became known as The Black Forest once again. We, as Kadoma, have stayed true to our duty in guarding this sacred forest. We have always guarded it and we always will... But we miss the sun. We miss the life our forest once harbored. Your father showed us what our home could be. And now that we are without it, our hearts ache to have it back.”

I held a hand to my heart as the Kadoma explained the history of the forest to me.

“Gods...” I whispered. “That’s an amazing story... But why don’t you think I could do the same?”

“You are only half elemental. Your father was very mighty... I doubt that you could do the things that he could.” The tree whispered.

My face hardened as I took a slow step forward. “And what if I can?”

The Kadoma chuckled quietly. “Then we will do whatever you desire.”


It had been quite humorous, seeing the expressions of disbelief on the Kadoma’s faces as I’d lifted my hands and done exactly what they said I couldn’t do. It was a moment of pride that I would not soon forget, even if I lived a thousand more years.

But what would stay with me even longer was the memory of the emotion on their faces after the disbelief faded away. It was happiness. The pure joy that I’d seen on their faces gave me a different sort of pride. Not an egotistical type, but one of a giving nature. Seeing them happy made me happy. I was proud of myself for being able to do something meaningful for them.

And even though night had fallen, the sun nowhere to be seen, the moonlight still poured through the thinning canopies, illuminating the dark forest below. After my display of power, which was apparently just as strong as my father’s had been, the Kadoma showed me quite a bit more respect.

And without further argument, they agreed to assist with protecting the human villages. So long as I returned once a month to upkeep the forest and continue nourishing it, they would do as I wished. Before I left, we’d agreed that each human village in the land would be provided with five to ten Kadoma spirit protectors, depending on the size of the village.

The spirits would inhabit the trees near each village. If any danger befell the humans living there, the Kadoma would intervene and protect the humans from the threat.

I smiled to myself as I floated through the forest. Walking through the tangled underbrush was too much work. It was much easier to drift through the air. And faster...

I couldn’t wait to tell the other’s what I’d done. Not only had I acquired the rune... I’d acquired an extremely powerful ally and I’d found a way to protect the humans without putting any of our people in danger. The Kadoma were much less vulnerable than our scouts were.

If the human soldiers shot silver filled arrows at the Kadoma, it would have no effect. They would only be able to harm the Kadoma if they shot them while their spirits were outside of the trees.

It was a fool proof plan.

Dristan would be so proud of me. I couldn’t wait to see his face.

Come to think of it... Shouldn’t I have been back to them by now? I’d exited the Black Forest nearly ten minutes ago... I squinted through the night covered forest, wondering if I’d gone the right direction.

Yes, this was definitely the right way...

But where are they?

I inhaled a long, slow breath through my nose, using my keen sense of smell to taste the air... Faintly, I picked up on each of my companions distinct scents.

Marrok. Damp fur, moss and subtle citrus.

Andromeda. Sage and burning sweet grass.

Torryn. Incense, steel and flame.

Warrick. Lavendar, leather and smoke.

Ronan. Sandalwood, aloe and lemongrass.

And Dristan. Burning embers, deep smoke and pine needles.

But none of these scents were as close as they should’ve been. They were far, far away... Why had they left their position?

With furrowed brows, I sped forward, zipping through the trees as I floated two feet off the ground. I dodged the trees with little effort, focused solely on getting closer to the faint scent of my family.

I stopped near a familiar circle of trees. The grass, leaves and vines on the forest floor were squashed in several areas, a sure sign that they’d been heavily walked upon. One area was more flat than the rest, a straight line, about ten feet in length.

Someone had been pacing here. Someone who was sick with worry. Dristan...

This is where I left them. I’m sure of it.

Something wasn’t right. A familiar feeling of unexplained fear and anxiety crept up my spine as I studied the area. It was the same feeling that had been plaguing me for the past week. It was a feeling of worry, of something awry in the pits of my stomach... A gut instinct.

The feeling that, for the past week, had crept up on me in the shower, or when I made my morning coffee, or when I was alone with my nose in a book... The feeling that something was very wrong. The feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Only this time, I couldn’t shake it off and tell myself that I was being paranoid. I couldn’t blame stress, or an overworked mind. The proof was right in front of me. The feelings I’d been ignoring all week were becoming real right before my eyes.

I sucked in a slow, trembling breath as I struggled to remain calm. I could smell them. Their scents were concentrated here, quite strongly, but not enough to make me feel more at ease. Their scents were stale... Old. They’d been here, of that I was certain. This was where I’d left them...

But why weren’t they here now?

Once again, with a level of concentration that could only be reached by the growing instinct to protect those that I loved, I inhaled deeply through my nose.

My eyes snapped open.

There were more scents here. Unfamiliar scents...

Humans... Iron... And something foreign...

I bared my teeth as my head whipped around, my eyes searching the surrounding area for any sign of a human soldier. But I was alone... So, so alone. The fear in my gut bubbled over, escalating to pure terror when another faint scent caught my attention.

Blood... A lot of it.

‘Dristan!’ I screamed down the invisible bond between our minds.

There was no answer.

‘Where are you? Tell me where you are!’ I shouted silently as tears began to prick my eyes.

Silence.

I gasped, the overwhelming wave of panic rendering my legs useless as I fell to my knees in the quiet forest. If I had been able to breathe, I would’ve cried. If I had been able to think a coherent thought apart from the scrambling hysteria inside of my head, I would’ve screamed.

But instead, the shock of what I’d found left me kneeling in the dirt, trembling from head to toe and struggling to remember how my lungs functioned.

The sudden snap of a branch from behind me snapped me out of my paralysis.

More swiftly than the blink of a lazy cat’s eye, I’d somehow shot to my feet, spun around, drawn my bow, knocked an arrow, and aimed it at the heart of the intruder. He stood with his hands in the air a mere fifteen feet away, his eyes wide with surprise.

“Don’t shoot...” He whispered.

“Ronan.” My voice sounded weak and strangled.

Immediately, I lowered my bow.

His hands followed my movement as his sky blue eyes studied my face. His desolate expression did little to ease the panic in my chest. But his presence lifted the debilitating panic enough for me to think around it.

Ronan was here. He was alive. Someone was here with me.

“Ronan...” I repeated his name, my voice quaking with relief and sorrow.

And in that moment, I didn't care that we'd hardly spoken in over a week. I didn't care that I'd let my friendship with him threaten Dristan and I's relationship. I didn't care that I was supposed to keep my distance from him.

He was here, alive.

Overcome with relief, I threw the bow to the forest floor and ran toward him as tears broke past my defenses.

His face crumbled with despair as he stretched his arms toward me and took four long strides in my direction. I collided with my dear friend, breathing in his familiar sandalwood scent, and as his sturdy arms caged me against his warmth, I began to sob.

“They took them, princess... They took them and there was nothing I could do.” He whispered, his voice trembling with guilt and pain.

When I was finally able to compose myself, I pulled away slightly to look up into his face. “What happened, Ronan?”

His eyes fluttered shut as he slowly shook his head. “A group of human soldiers... They came out of nowhere...”

They'd been ambushed by human soldiers... But Ronan had somehow managed to escape, unharmed?

Suspicion suddenly sent ice through my veins. I pushed away from his embrace, stumbling back a few feet. “H-how are you here? Why weren’t you taken as well?”

A flash of pain crossed his features at my suspicious accusation. “I’d gone into the woods to... relieve myself. I wasn’t gone two minutes... I was on my way back to the group when I heard the attack. I wanted to help them... I ran toward the sounds. I was almost to them... The soldiers hadn’t spotted me yet... But I stopped when Dristan...” His voice trailed off.

My throat grew thick. “When Dristan what?”

“He saw me... His eyes pinned me to the spot... I moved to take another step toward them, but he shook his head... He didn’t want me to. I shook my head back, and made to intervene, but again, he shook his head. And then... He mouthed a word at me. Just one word... And then I understood.”

“What word? What are you talking about?!”

He let out an unsteady breath and took a step toward me. “Your name... He mouthed your name. And I knew... He wanted me to stay behind to protect you. To explain to you what happened... He didn’t want you to be alone.”

I stared at him unblinking. The cool night air stung my eyes, extracting more tears from them. “Then do what he wanted you to do. Explain to me what happened, Ronan.”

His eyes trailed to the forest floor, his face awash with horror as he recalled whatever violent events he’d witnessed. “They... They had weapons that I’ve only ever heard stories of. I’d never seen them in action before... It was like a nightmare. They threw night-bane gas grenades at them. Night-bane mutes our magic, drains us of power and makes us almost as easy to kill as a regular human would be.”

“I know... Dristan told me about night-bane once...” I whispered, horrified. Images of my mate on his knees before a human soldier, powerless and vulnerable, sent wave after wave of rage, fear and sorrow toward my heart.

My mate... He was vulnerable and in grave danger. That was, if he was even still... No, I wouldn't think like that. He was alive. He was alive, he had to be.

The bond between us, the invisible cord which merged our souls into one, burned within me as the instinct to protect him threatened to take over. If they hurt him... If they had drawn one drop of blood from his body, they were going to wish they'd never been born into existence.

Murderous rage pumped through my veins as Ronan continued. My eyes blazed into his.

“Once the gas was released, the soldiers charged... In the confusion, they somehow managed to throw strange, metallic colored nets over them. It took me a moment to realize that the mesh nets were made of iron... If they had any source of power remaining after the night-bane grenades, the iron certainly drained the rest. They were all on the ground, covered in those iron prisons... That was when I was about to charge the humans. But when Dristan met my eyes, I knew that I couldn’t. Someone had to be here when you returned...”

My hands balled into fists at my sides as I shook my head. “Why did you listen to him? You should’ve done something! You could’ve stopped them! You could’ve immobilized them, taken their weapons-”

“No, princess.” He interrupted, shaking his head sadly. “There were at least ten of them. I could’ve taken out a few of them on my own, but I couldn’t have stopped them all. Even if I’d managed to immobilize two or three of them at once, I wouldn’t have been able to kill the others before my magic was drained... You don’t understand... You once immobilized an entire wolf pack, princess, but that kind of power is unheard of. No one before you has been able to immobilize more than three individuals at a time. And even then, it takes a tremendous amount of power. I couldn’t have stopped them. There was nothing I could do.”

A loud, frustrated snarl escaped my lips. "I should’ve been here! I could’ve protected them!”

"No.” Ronan snapped, taking another step toward me. He was less than a foot away. I stared up into his piercing eyes as he shook his head at me. “No.... It was a blessing that you were not here. Don’t you see that? You would’ve been taken, just as they were. It was an ambush.”

“No, I could’ve-”

“Stop.” He said, pulling me into his chest. “Stop... This isn’t your fault.”

I gritted my teeth as he tried to calm me with his embrace. “What happened after that, Ronan? Did they...?”

“No, they didn’t kill them.” He whispered.

I sagged against him in relief.

“They bound them in iron chains and gagged them with night-bane soaked cloths. Then, they dragged them away into the forest... It's been about an hour ago. I don’t know where they’ve taken them... I’ve been waiting here for you.” He explained.

I trembled with relief against his shoulder. Three words played on repeat in my mind as the most soothing sense of relief I’d ever felt cascaded over me.

Thank the gods... Thank the gods... Thank the gods...

"How did they find us here? It doesn't make sense... There is no way that humans could've tracked us like this." I whispered.

"Princess... There was someone with them. Someone not human..." Ronan answered, his voice tainted with anger.

I pulled back slightly to look up into his face. "What? Who?"

"It was a Bakru. I'm certain of it. He was not chained, or bound in any way... He was helping the human soldiers like a traitorous worm. Dristan seemed to recognize him... He called him by name... Ferrin."

"Ferrin?!" I gasped. "That can't be right, Ronan... Ferrin helped us when Dristan saved me from the human soldiers."

"I don't know why he's doing it, but he's helping them, princess."

I shook my head in denial. How could Ferrin do this? There had to be a reason... the humans had burned down his village... Why would he assist them after such a horrifying act of war?

“We have to do something, Ronan...”

He pulled away further, wiping a tear from my cheek with the pad of his thumb. “We’re going to track them down. They are going to pay for what they’ve done.”

My brows pulled together as I stared up at him. “Aren’t you going to try to talk me out of it or tell me it’s too dangerous?”

He laughed softly as he walked around me and picked up the bow I’d abandoned on the ground. When he returned, he placed the bow firmly in my palm, covering my hand with his own.

“If I’ve told you once, I will tell you a thousand more times, princess... You have more power than you, or any of us, have yet to understand. The only one’s in danger are those pathetic humans.”

A small smile graced my lips despite my tear stained cheeks. Ronan mirrored my expression, his powder blue eyes gleaming through the blanket of night. “Let’s go.”



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