Rootbound Page 1

Author: Shannon Mayer

Series: The Elemental #5

Genres: Fantasy

CHAPTER 1

“ou know, I don’t mind following you, Lark, because the view is truly enjoyable with the sway of your hips, the sweet lines of your body and the way your hair swirls on the air, but maybe you could at least talk to me? It’s been months. Months and not a word,” Cactus said between gasps. “Do I not deserve at least a word? Something?”

I slowed my pace, my mind so caught up in what we’d survived when many had fallen that I didn’t realize how long it had been. I’d eaten, slept, walked and run, then done it all again. The freedom to move had pulsed through me.

I looked around us, and knew that the wandering was coming to an end. We’d nearly reached the Rim, our home in the Redwoods. The power of the earth coursed through all three sets of our veins as we’d traveled. Peta was at my side in her snow leopard form. She loped along with an easy stride, her ears flicking to me as Cactus spoke. The bond between us vibrated with irritation. She understood my silence and had embraced it with me.

Cactus was right, I hadn’t spoken to him, yet that decision had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what we’d recently lived through. What my mind was dealing with.

In a matter of a week, I’d been released from my second punishment in an oubliette. Rylee, the Tracker, had freed me from the prison I could not escape on my own. I’d rallied the four elemental families to help fight the demon hordes, and battled said horde side by side with Rylee, her family, and the supernaturals left in the world.

Twenty-five years ago, I’d been banished to the desert for helping a Tracker. My father had only seen what I’d done as breaking the rules, not realizing that there was more to stepping outside the parameters of being an elemental. While in the desert, I’d met a second Tracker, and helped her as well. Once more my father punished me, only seeing the letter of the law, and not the spirit. He couldn’t see that in breaking the rules, I’d done my best to help save lives. Regardless, Father had seen fit to punish me yet again and had sentenced me once more into an oubliette.

Another six years of my life had passed in that darkness, my mind fighting to stay sane in my second spell within an oubliette. I was freed by Rylee as she fought to save the world from a demon horde. Which meant as soon as I was released, I was thrust into a battle for the world, my friends and family at my side. The battle was one we’d barely survived, and a good many of those I’d known and loved hadn’t.

To say I was struggling with the company of others was a small understatement.

A scene of the battle crashed over me, as suffocating as an ocean of water holding me below the waves, forcing itself down my throat.

Demons swarmed. Their weapons swept in terrifying arcs toward those at my side. The world was dark with droves of them. One fell, and ten took its place. Supernaturals, elementals, and friends died faster than we could kill the demons.

I’d grasped the Tracker’s spirit in my hands while her heart beat its final thump and then watched as, with a Daywalker shaman’s help, we brought her back to life, making her something new and more dangerous than she’d been before, if that was possible. It was the only way to save her. A part of me knew she would hate me for it, and I accepted that burden.

We had stopped the demons, but lost so much in the process.

The demons were sucked back into their realm deep within the Veil, finally locked away.

And that was when the elementals began to fight one another like the fools they were. What had driven them to that? My sister, the queen of the Rim, tried to stop them. Tried to be the peacemaker and bring them to see reason. It hadn’t worked.

A shiver rolled through me as I tried to blink the vision away. The fear of screwing up once more and the world paying for my failure nipped at me. An old fear, and one I thought I’d given up while I’d rotted in the oubliette.

What the world had barely escaped, without even realizing, was so heavy on my mind that words couldn’t encompass the last few months. Between that and truly believing I was free of my prison, the words would not come, and all I’d been able to do was move and give silence. An homage to what was almost my fate if I’d fallen on the battle field. Silence in death was a lot longer than a twenty-year banishment, or even my years in the oubliette.

But that was Cactus for you; he never really felt the depth of the world around us or the weight of responsibility that lay on our shoulders as elementals. After twenty-five plus years of his own banishment, he hadn’t learned a thing. I’d hoped he would gain some insight during his own time away from the world, that he’d grow up at least a little and see outside his own needs and desires.

I shared a glance with Peta. Her ashen coat blended into the clouds around us. The thick tumultuous gray blanket rumbled, again, drawing my attention and making me twitch. Peta’s green eyes rolled skyward.

“Lark. Talk to me. Please.” Cactus’s voice broke. “I . . . did I do something wrong? I feel like I’m missing something. Like you’re angry with me. I can’t bear it.”

I slowed to a stop and looked back at him. His eyes were close to the same shade of green as Peta’s: vibrant and full of life and laughter. His dark red hair was mussed from the speed at which we’d traveled, the wind having whipped it into a maelstrom of strands that mimicked a live flame and half his elemental heritage.

I stared hard at him, knowing in that moment in my heart and soul, he was not the one for me. I’d felt that certainty grow over the months of silence. No matter how much I loved him, no matter how much history we shared, we would soon part ways for the final time. I felt it in every bone and fiber of my body. And maybe that was partly why I’d postponed going home, to delay the inevitable.

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