Ash Page 1

Author: Shannon Mayer

Series: The Elemental #6

Genres: Fantasy

CHAPTER 1

here is an old tale amongst the Terralings, one I have not thought of since I was a child. A story so old, I’m not sure any of our people remember it in its original form; rather, they recall it, torn like pieces of paper shredded and thrown in the air, so you can’t possibly grab them all, but find them scattered in bits and pieces.

With my eyes closed, blocking out what was in front of me, I could bring the memory forward of one of the lines of the tale. One that had always stayed with me, coming to me when I was sure I could not take another step.

“For that, the heart beats on, gaining in strength as it gained in purpose.” I kept my voice low, as the words were only for me, and opened my eyes as the words flowed through me. I needed purpose more than ever before, because in that moment my heart walked away from me, and seeing her banished gutted me as surely as a blade running me through.

Larkspur’s long blonde braid swung side to side as she walked away from the Rim, away from her home. Around us, the redwoods groaned and creaked in the wind as if they, too, mourned her loss, as if they understood that the only elemental who truly understood the cost of standing by and doing nothing was being cast aside.

The set of Lark’s shoulders was bent, though I was one of the few who would see the slight curl as though the weight of a redwood had been placed squarely on them, holding her down, trapping her underneath it. Her chin was high, and her stride defiant, even now. But her heart . . . I could almost hear it cracking under the punishment.

Banished by her father, the King of the Rim, to the desert; it was a death sentence for most Terralings. For Lark, though, I prayed to the mother goddess it was not the same for her. She was more than just a Terraling. Born a half-breed, she carried two elements within her. Earth and Spirit flowed through her veins in amounts that made her a powerhouse of epic proportions.

Spirit allowed her to be more than any other elemental that our world had seen in a thousand years. I could only hope it would be enough to keep her mind intact. Elementals didn’t do well outside their homes for more than a few months. They slowly lost their minds as their hearts and souls craved the connection they had to their place of power, whether it be the Rim, the Pit, the Deep, or the Eyrie. Without a foot in the place of their home, they seemed to unravel, an event that left not only their lives in danger, but the lives of the humans around them.

If Lark unraveled . . . I was not sure the world could survive the consequences.

I could not let her go. I steeled myself for what I was about to do.

The king raised his voice as I took a step to follow Lark.

“Any who have contact with Larkspur will also be banished. I will not have her ideas infecting our family further than they have thus far.” His voice rolled through the Rim, boosted by his connection to the earth. Unlike Lark, I couldn’t see him use his power, but I could feel it course across my skin like a faint breeze. The crowd was dispersing, and I should have held my tongue. I knew better than to challenge the king. I was an Ender, not even of the royal family. I had no right to call him on his actions. But it was Lark he was sending away, not some criminal.

And she was my heart. I was not sure I wasn’t already banished.

“Are you serious?” I didn’t even try to stop the words, and powered them as he had powered his only a moment before. They drew not only the king’s attention, but the remaining crowd too. If nothing else, they loved something to gossip over. And an Ender facing the king was about as good as it got after the scene with the king and Lark. First he offered her the crown, which she turned down, and then he banished her as punishment. It made no sense.

His green eyes flashed with irritation, but not true anger, which surprised me. “I have lost my daughter today, Ender. Do not question me.” His words hummed with power, almost making me want to go to my knees. My vows as an Ender were simple, but they bound me to be obedient to the ruler over all else. Which made me want to bow my head in acquiescence to his words. I fought the urge, steadied my knees, and kept my eyes on him, locking him in a stare that had made more than one elemental shake with fear.

“You chose to lose her,” I said. “You chose to cast her out. That was your decision, not hers.”

The remaining crowd sucked in a collective breath. But the king just shook his head as though a deep sadness permeated him. “You are an Ender. I do not expect you to understand what I must do to rule our family and keep it safe. I do not expect you to truly understand the costs we all must pay.” He turned his back on me and walked away, his back stiff and his stride firm as he entered the Spiral. Belladonna, Lark’s older sister, followed him.

She glanced back at me and mouthed something I didn’t quite get, but guessed at. She would keep trying to convince her father that Lark should not be banished. That she should be brought back.

A hand touched my arm and I glanced down to see Blossom, an Ender who trained with Lark, at my side. Her brown eyes were crinkled at the edges with worry and her mouth trembled ever so slightly. As if she were holding back tears. For an Ender, she was soft. But seeing as there weren’t many Enders left, I wasn’t about to tell her that.

“Ash, are you going to lead the Enders still?” she asked.

What choice did I have? I had been commanded not to follow Lark, by her own words, and by her father’s.

“Yes.” The word felt like a betrayal to Lark, like I was giving up after nominal effort. An effort blown away like dandelion fluff on the wind of a child’s breath.

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