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Her Elemental Dragons: Shake the Earth: Chapter 6

KIRA

As we flew across the sky, I thought about what Slade had revealed this morning. I understood now why he had such a problem with the idea of sharing me with the other men. Not only had he grown up in the Earth Realm, but he’d been betrayed by the woman he’d loved. Faya had tried to cover up for her mistake by claiming she still loved Slade and wanted to be with both men, but if she’d known Slade for so many years then she must have known that would never work. Slade was the most loyal, dependable man I knew—and he expected the same from the ones he loved. When she’d cheated on him she’d broken his trust along with his heart, and there would be no return from that.

Our situation was completely different, and though he may understand that on an intellectual level, his heart was still wary. Underneath his tough exterior he worried he would be hurt again. I had to show him that would never happen with me. But even if I did somehow, could Slade ever really love someone again? Or had his past relationship with Faya robbed him of that forever?

We stopped for a quick lunch, where we ate most of our reserves of bread, cheese, dried fruit, and preserved meat. I sat apart from the men with Brin, who couldn’t believe she’d slept through the entire bandit encounter and had me repeat the story for her three times, before asking a hundred questions about my past.

“They lived in the Air Realm back then,” I said, before biting off a piece of beef jerky. “Cadock rescued me. That’s how I met him.”

“Rescued you from what?” she asked, as she brushed a bug off her trousers.

“I stopped in a small village looking for work. By then I’d been on the road for a year by myself and coin wasn’t easy for me to come by. I didn’t have a lot of useful skills, and I’d become pretty desperate for some food and shelter. Two men caught me and tried to kidnap me. I think they wanted to sell me.” I shuddered at the memory. “Cadock killed the men and saved my life. His father’s gang took me in and taught me much of what I know now. If it weren’t for them, I’d probably be dead by now. Or worse.”

“Lucky for us that he found you,” Brin said. “But I’m surprised you left.”

“It’s hard to explain, but as I grew older I began to feel like my place was somewhere else. And though I cared about Cadock a lot, I knew it was time to move on.” I shrugged. “Maybe the Gods were whispering in my ear that my destiny was with four other men.”

Brin sighed. “I can’t believe I slept through it all. I always miss the excitement.”

I leaned back and gazed up at the cloudless blue sky. “Don’t worry, I have a feeling there’s a lot more ahead of us. Starting with this Resistance base.”

“You think we’ll find trouble there?”

“I hope not. I don’t know much about them though, and Slade is worried.”

“I know little about the Resistance beyond rumors and whispers. I can’t imagine they’d be a problem though. After all, you want the same thing as them.” She patted my hand. “You have nothing to worry about. And if it does turn out to be a trap, I’ve got your back.”

“I hope you’re right.” I smiled at her. “I’m so grateful you came with us on this journey.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I only wish I could be of more help.” She shrugged. “When surrounded by people who can use magic and turn into dragons, it’s hard to be useful.”

“You help me keep my sanity, give me a break from my overbearing men, and let me vent to you about whatever is bothering me. That’s more important than anything else.”

She let out a delightful little laugh. “Yes, that is what friends are for, and I can see how you might need an escape sometimes. Very well then, what’s troubling you these days?”

I bit my lip, then made myself ask, “You’ve had multiple lovers at one time before, haven’t you?”

“I have…” she said, her voice laced with interest.

“How do you make sure you’re giving each one enough attention?”

“I had a very detailed calendar,” she said with a wink. “But truly, it’s all about balance and being in tune with their needs and feelings. I’m sure you’ll figure it out in time.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. I glanced over at Slade, who was shaking his head at something Jasin was saying. “What do you do when one of them isn’t happy with sharing you?”

A frown graced her red lips as she followed my gaze. “Sadly, I’m not sure there is anything to be done. It usually ends up with one of you ending the arrangement.”

I sighed. “In our case that isn’t an option.”

“Then I suppose you both need to find a way to ensure you’re all happy. Communication and honesty is the best bet. If you love each other, you’ll make it work.”

If only it were so easy. Slade said he cared about me, yes, but love was another thing entirely.

We rejoined the others and took off again on our dragon steeds, and soon the terrain became familiar. My excitement and anticipation grew with each farm and hill we went over, every one bringing us closer to Stoneham—and to Tash. Brin was a good friend, but I’d only recently met her and we came from completely opposite worlds. She’d grown up among the nobility and was practically a princess herself. Tash, on the other hand, had been like a sister to me for years. Her family had taken me in and given me a home and a job when I’d been desperate to settle down somewhere, and she’d mended my bruised soul with her kind smile and warm heart. She was the first person I’d told about being the Black Dragon, and I couldn’t wait to catch up with her again soon. I wanted to know all about how she was doing after her father’s death, and learn how the inn was faring now that she was running it.

As we approached Stoneham, I eagerly gazed across the forest where I used to hunt, until I saw something strange. Parts of the forest had turned black, the trees turned to cinder, the leaves now ash. It started with a few small patches, but then it spread as we grew closer to the village, until there was nothing left of the forest but death and decay.

My hands gripped Auric’s scales harder and I yelled, “Hurry!”

Auric and Jasin pushed harder, their wings beating at the air, and the burnt remains of the forest gave way to a much worse scene. And no matter how fast we flew, it was already too late.

All that remained of Stoneham were ruins. Homes and shops had become crumbled, blackened husks, and there was not a single living person in sight. The ground had split open right through the middle of the village, tearing apart the lives of everyone in it, and fire had finished them off.

Emotion choked my throat as Auric landed and I jumped off his back. The heady smell of lingering smoke clogged my nose as I ran down the road, but it didn’t stop me from yelling out, “Tash? Launa? Anyone?”

Brin called out my name, but I ignored it. The others hung back as they took in the destruction, but I had to get closer to be sure it was real. I stumbled through the ruins in a daze, calling out for the people I once knew. Charred wood scattered the ground, which had turned thick and black, similar to the area around the Fire Temple’s volcano where lava had once flowed. A few scattered bones poked through the black debris, but that was all I could find of the town’s inhabitants.

A picture began to form in my mind of what had happened. Sark hadn’t been the only Dragon who’d done this—this time he’d had help. The Jade Dragon had torn apart the very ground under the town, causing many of the buildings to collapse before Sark had set fire to them. Lava had risen up out of the deep trench and spread to envelop much of the town, and Sark had made sure anything it didn’t touch was turned to cinders. There was nothing left.

Had anyone made it out alive? Or had Sark chased them down and roasted them one by one? Was that what those patches of fire were in the forest? My stomach churned at the thought, and I swallowed down bile as I continued forward.

At the edge of the village I found the rubble that had once been the inn—my home for the last few years. Some other buildings had partially survived, though they’d never be able to be salvaged, but not this one. It had been so thoroughly destroyed it was impossible to tell it had once been a two-story inn teeming with life. Now all that remained was a black crater in the earth.

I moved forward anyway, my heart unwilling to accept what my eyes clearly saw or the acrid scent in my nose. My boot struck something hard in the ash, and I glanced down at it. Something white stood out from the debris. A bone.

I bent down and touched the pale white surface, and revulsion instantly spread through me. I felt the lack of life within the bone keenly, and it made me want to yank my hand away. Death was the opposite of my spirit magic, and being so close to it tore at my soul. And worst of all, I could sense who this bone had once belonged to.

“Tash!” I cried out, my throat burning. I sank to my knees, instantly coating them in thick black soot, as tears streamed down my face. She couldn’t be gone. None of this was real. It was a bad dream, a nightmare my mind had conjured up using memories of my parents’ deaths, when Sark had burned our home alive with them trapped inside. Except every one of my senses told me this was real, from the air I choked on, to the ash on my skin, to the bitter taste in my mouth. The bone in front of me was undeniable proof. I just didn’t want to believe it.

The people in Stoneham were innocent. Tash was the kindest girl I’d ever known. And now they were gone. Forever.

All because of me.


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