Home > Reign the Earth (The Elementae #1)

Reign the Earth (The Elementae #1)
Author: A.C. Gaughen


Acknowledgments

 

 

Poison

There was a scorpion in my tent.

I stared at him. The moon was bright, but only a little of its light filtered in. The scorpion walked carefully over the sand, his tail raised but not ready to strike. He moved slowly toward where I was meant to be asleep on my bedroll.

With a deep breath, I held up my hand. “By the power of the desert, I command you to stop,” I said.

In return, he curled his tail up, his body tilting down so the tail could flick out with poisonous aim.

I laughed, leaning forward and scooping him up. He stayed tense and primed for a long moment, but scorpions and dragons had nothing to fear from each other, and he remembered that after a while, crawling tentatively on my skin. I moved to support him so he wouldn’t fall.

“Come to wish me good luck?” I asked him, stroking the stiff shell of his body. With a deep sigh, I confessed, “I think I need it.” His tail flattened further, but flipped up again when I stopped.

When the tent flap moved to the side and a shaft of moonlight pierced my tent, I gasped, sitting up and sheltering him in my hands.

“Good,” Kata said. “You’re awake.” Then she saw what was in my hands and jerked away. “There are less lethal ways out of a marriage, Shalia.”

Laughing, I let the scorpion go and lifted the back of the tent so he could scuttle away. I jumped out of bed as she came in. She lowered her hood at the same time that the tent flap closed, and it seemed like the pale silver of her hair sucked up all the luminescence of the moon.

“Kata!” I cried, throwing my arms around her. “You came!”

Her arms tightened around me, and the unsteady rock of our hug knocked us over. We fell onto the sand giggling, nose-to-nose. Like it used to be. “Of course I did. I came as soon as I heard. I’m sorry it took me so long.”

I smiled at her. “You’re here now. And we have so much to talk about.”

Her answering smile was watery as she looked at me. “You’re getting married,” she said, her voice softer. “How do you feel?”

“Short,” was the first answer that came to mind, and her nose wrinkled. I wasn’t short, and I knew she was about to point that out to me, but I sighed. “I think queens are supposed to be taller.”

Our noses touched. “I’ve seen him,” she told me. “He’s not much taller than you, if at all.”

A breath filled my lungs, full of questions, full of what does he look like what does he stand for why does he want me what do you know, but it didn’t matter. In just a few hours I would be his bride, and I would find out soon enough the answers to all those questions.

But tomorrow I wouldn’t have Kata. “Are we doing it?” I asked her.

She grinned. “Tonight? You’re supposed to be up before the dawn.”

“We both know I’m not sleeping much tonight. Besides, it’s bad luck to break with tradition.”

In answer, she tugged my hands, pulling us both up from the sand. We stuck our heads out, looking around for my brothers or uncles or anyone else who would stop us. “Is Rian with you?” I whispered to her.

“Yes,” she whispered back, tugging me forward.

With no one in sight, we ran out of the tent, hand in hand, feet sliding in the sand. The sky was clear, the moon bright enough to guide us, but so much colder than her brother, the sun. We ran faster as the sand became more compact. Our clan was camped right outside the city, ready for the morning, when I would greet the sun, my husband, and a whole new life all in one day.

Coming upon Jitra was as strange and magical as every time before. Rolling dunes disappeared, leaving a blankness on the horizon, and the shifting sands slid away as solid earth appeared beneath. A hard shelf of rock then parted to reveal a narrow cleft, wide enough for a single person, the mouth of a staircase leading down through the cliff into the city.

Jitra was a city cut into the rock. Long ago a powerful river had eroded a sloping path that was as wide across as ten men. From there, the desert clans had carved into the walls, forming massive dwellings, shaded and cool, eternal and unyielding. The river still ran in a narrow vein cutting through the mountain rock until it cascaded off a cliff at the end of the city, giving my nomadic people their one fixed source of water.

It was a holy place.

Kata always had a hard time finding it. She wasn’t a clanswoman, a fact I tended to forget until times like this, when she couldn’t find her way to this sacred city. Her fingers, pale and strange on my dark skin, clutched mine tighter as I led her to the break in the earth, and we plunged into darkness as we descended the steep, narrow stone stairs into the city.

We slowed at the bottom of the staircase. I could hear city guards somewhere ahead and tugged her to the side. Another path burrowed deeper into the mountain rather than out into the city, and I led the way, sure of my steps as I would always be in Jitra.

Another staircase, older, less even, twisted around the rock and deep into the ground. Along that staircase, the air changed from the hot dryness of the desert to a damp that clung to the walls and our fingers.

It was there that Kata became more confident in her steps, keeping pace with me, able to tell where she was going instead of being dragged. After a few more wild steps and a laugh that echoed, the passageway opened into a huge cavern, and the massive underground lake that was the hidden treasure of the mountains.

The moment I saw it, I halted, and Kata slammed into my back. I barely noticed her as I looked around us.

Hundreds of thousands of tiny droplets of water hung suspended in the air around us. The fine scatter of mist caught the glimmer of a far-off shaft of moonlight at the surface and refracted it, sharing it among the tiny beads of water until the whole cavern looked like it had swallowed all the stars of the night sky.

I laughed, delighted, and Kata moved forward, letting the drops break over her like tiny kisses. I touched them with my fingertips, watching the little bubbles break into smaller and smaller pieces, still suspended, still standing at attention for Kata.

The cave knew her. In this place of water, her power was strong, beautiful, magical. As I gazed over such wonder, I felt spirits pressing close around me, protecting me, filling me with faith. Tomorrow would be perfect, and this marriage that would take me away from my family would be the beginning of a long and eternal peace.

My sacrifice would protect my people.

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