Elemental Heir : Book 1 Of The Elemental Heir Series

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Chapter 6




I counted each tree we rode past. The trees were beginning to thin out as we finally drew toward the maw of the forest. It’s lush, green mouth would spit us out into the unforgiving terrain of the southern mountains. And once we trekked through those, we’d finally arrive at my doom. Each tree we passed seem to mock me.

I had just counted the two hundred and thirty second tree when the shouting began. The horses halted, my own mare nickering and tugging against her reins in protest as I pulled her to a stop.

“Get them!” The Captains voice rang out from the front of the line. “Bring me their heads!”

I could not see what or whom he was referring to. The soldiers in front of me were too tall. I craned my neck, desperate to see what the commotion was about. The shouting grew louder ahead, and in return, the soldiers in front of Dristan and I dismounted. They drew their swords and bolted for the front of the line, leaving a clear line of sight for me in their wake.

I blinked, stunned, at what I saw.

Bakru!

A dozen or more Bakru stood in our path, each armed with a heavy wooden spear, tipped with a large blade. I had never seen one in person, but I’d heard enough stories to know what they were right away. I glanced at Dristan and waited for him to dismount and join the fighting, waited for him to drag me along with him, but he only watched in calm silence.

I swallowed and turned my gaze back to the scene before me, watched as the soldiers ran toward the group of Bakru. The creatures did not stand down, or even look alarmed, as the armed men ran for them.

The Bakru were not a wise sort to quarrel with. They were small, ranging from three to four feet, but they were vicious and unpredictable. And as they were half made of flesh, half made of wood, they were naturally armored and hard to kill.

They had huge eyes and bulbous noses. Their skin was pale and hard, like birch wood. Thick, white fur crowned their heads and trailed down their spines, ending in long, furry tails. They were dressed in varying outfits, some in tattered rags, others in leather cloaks. I might have said they were somewhat cute, aside from their hideous, sharp teeth.

The Bakru were forest gnomes, protectors of the woodlands, and not friendly from what I’d been told. I’d once heard a story that they would help one do unsavory deeds. But it was said to be unwise to make deals with them. They were master manipulators, deceitful and wicked, and would find ways to make you pay for their services with more than what you bargained for. Perhaps your very life.

The first soldier to reach the group of wood gnomes was simply sliced in half. The next two had barely lifted their swords before they’d been decapitated. The other soldiers had slowed to a walk, glancing at each other in uncertainty.

The tallest Bakru, the male in the front, grinned at the men with brown teeth. Jagged, uneven teeth that I was sure would cleave flesh from bone with little effort. That grin, even from this distance, had the hair on my arms standing on end.

“Dristan, we should run-“, I began, but he held up a hand, silencing me.

“Be silent.” He said.

He leaned toward me and slid the key that I’d tried to steal the night before into the lock on my handcuffs. The lock clicked and the cuffs fell to the ground with a dull thud. I rubbed at my wrists, marveling at the feeling of being unchained.

Dristan hopped off of his horse and extended a calloused hand to me, offering to help me off of my own horse. I grabbed it eagerly and tried not to dwell on how pleasantly warm his skin felt on mine. I slid off the saddle easily with his help.

Dread and fear uncurled in my belly, but I plastered on a mask of calm as I stared up at him expectantly.

“Go to the thicket. Stay there until I summon you. If you run, I will catch you and you will regret it. Do you understand?” His voice held enough dark promise that I gulped and nodded at him swiftly.

His expression was hard, body tense. He was a predator, readying for a fight. The shift in his energy, the raw, male nature of it, had me backing away. My very bones screamed at me to run, run, run...

“Stay out of sight. No matter what you see, no matter what you hear, stay put. Wait for me.” I continued backing toward the tree line, desperate to get away, and nodded again.

Dristan waited until I was fully submerged in the thicket, hidden by the wild tangles of branches and shadows, before he turned away from me. I watched as the horses began to panic, frightened by the shift in energy, ready to flee from whatever danger that they could sense was emerging.

Dristan slapped two of them on their hindquarters and they immediately ran, the rest following on instinct. The Captain turned and gaped after the horses as they disappeared down the trail in the direction from which we’d come.

“Lieutenant! Get those horses back here now!” He bellowed, his face red as a beet. Dristan did not move a muscle.

His eyes met with the leader of the Bakru and his lips turned up into a wicked grin. The creature mirrored his expression and bowed deeply.

“Lord Dristan, how wonderful it is to see you alive and well.” The Bakru male said pleasantly. His voice was like wind in the trees, ancient and swift.

My jaw practically hit the ground.

The soldiers simultaneously whipped their heads toward the Lieutenant. Each of them wore an expression of utter shock.

“Likewise, Ferrin.” Dristan said with a slight nod of his head. “I have come to deliver my end of the bargain, as promised. I assume you’re prepared to deliver yours?”

The forest gnomes smiled in unison as their leader drawled, “But of course! We are nothing if not loyal to our word, my Lord.”

My eyes widened and I shivered. What have you done, Dristan? You should never bargain with the Bakru! And did they just call him Lord?

I felt as though I might faint or cry, so I squatted lower in the brush and covered my mouth with trembling hands.

“What the hell is going on here, boy?!” The captain shouted, his face turning even more red. Dristan stood his ground, seeming taller and more intimidating than ever before.

“I have tolerated you addressing me as boy for the last time. Do it again, and I will be sure to kill you last, and in a way that will have you begging for the mercy of death.”

The Captain’s eyes nearly bulged out of his skull. The soldiers began to murmur and I could hear words like traitor and treason among their angry chatter. The Captain took an aggressive step forward.

“Did you just threaten me? Your Captain?!”

Dristan picked at an invisible piece of dust on his sleeve. “I do not make threats. Only promises.”

The Captain drew his sword. “You will regret that. I will see that you are dismissed without a shred of honor when I throw you at the king’s feet! That is, if you aren’t hung for treason first, boy!

Dristan’s mouth curled upward. “I warned you. Now I shall enjoy watching the light leave your eyes.”

And then the world shattered.



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