Betrayed

This is chapter 7 of my webnovel, The Elementals: Song of Spirit. If you’re on the wrong chapter, or are just starting to read, click here for the linked table of contents. And happy reading! ~ JR

Chapter 7
Betrayed

The terrain shifted and spun. Here and there a black mountain appeared, vanishing again within moments. A vast lake, too far across to see the other side, suddenly burst into flames and was reduced to ashes, only to reappear once more not far away. Great forests of pine, spruce and redwood grew instantly at random places, the trees reaching up in vain for sunlight before withering into sickly, twisted ghosts of their former selves. These, too, disappeared quickly, replaced by countless unpredictable landscapes. Thick sand blew in on unnatural, freezing winds, lying on the blasted, barren ground for moments before disappearing into the black sky in a sudden cyclone. Deep rumbles of thunder boomed loud and soft, close and far, and streaks of bright red lightning shot out of the gloom from no discernable origin. Rain never came.

And all around, small tornadoes of freezing red and burning blue danced their deadly ballet.

There was only one bastion of solidity in the entirety of The Great Empty. Rising from the ever-shifting landscape like a hulking monster of black, blasted stone, the fortress had stood for eons of time, held there by a strong sorcery that denied The Great Empty its usual chaos within a bubble of calm.

Adams was called Lord of The Great Empty, though it was a title he grudgingly accepted at best. It amused him in a vague, annoying way that one could ever be considered lord of their own prison. But servants needed to feel they served someone important, and he needed them all to carry out his plans. So he accepted his title on the outside, if not within his own mind.

One such servant stood before Adams now in his throne room, a spy within the underground realms of the Earth-Born. He was a wily dwarf who had not been caught as yet and so had the same freedoms as any sidhe to come and go within the planes at will. This freedom included The Great Empty, though it was not strictly a plane in its own right — The Queen’s gift to her sidhe pets of a challenging, well-stocked training ground for their warriors, wannabe heroes and youths looking for proof of their manhood.

It all made Adams laugh.

After all, hunting evil in a prison for evil was entirely laughable, especially considering that no prisoner here could die anyway. It was all just a show-off to each-other of how wonderful they were.

But it did work to Adams’ favor.

This dwarf before him, for example, had been one of those youths out to find manhood many years before. Stupid enough to challenge Adams directly, he had paid a hefty price for his daring. Adams had kept him in his dungeon for a very long time, long enough to teach the dwarf who was truly the power within this be-planed world, at least. And long enough to prove to the dwarf how wise it would be to serve the Lord of The Great Empty.

He had been a loyal servant ever since.

In fact, all of Adams’ very valuable Traveling spies had come to him this way. And so though the Queen’s gift of The Great Empty as a hunting ground was laughable, Adams very much appreciated it nevertheless.

The sorcerer leaned forward, placing his chin in a cupped hand. His appearance did not betray the power he held within. Completely average in height and weight, Adams would not be glanced at twice on the Surface of the Earthen Plane among his own human kind. With his powerful sorcery, he had watched the changes of style among his people over the eons, insisting on keeping up with human fashion himself. As a result, his brown and gray peppered hair was cut short and neat, matching the neatly trimmed goatee on his chin, and over his hazel-green eyes he wore a pair of thick, rectangular glasses. The glass was plain as he did not need a prescription and did not know about prescriptions if he did, but he had seen that many human men wore them, and so he had insisted on making a pair for himself nonetheless.

In his vast closets he hoarded millions of clothing styles from every century and every culture of humanity from the time he had been sent to his prison, but at the moment he wore his favorite outfit – baggy jeans and a white button-up shirt untucked, sleeves rolled up lazily. His feet were shoeless, a pair of gleaming white socks all that covered them. He had found this outfit to be the most comfortable he had ever worn. The first time he had put it on, he had been reminded of how very smart his people were.

Adams loved being human.

The spy wrung his hands fearfully as he delivered his news. “The Elementals’ve passed inta the dwarven realms, Master.”

The sorcerer leaned back, nodding thoughtfully. “My selkie spy informed me yesterday that the Water Princess is now among her people. The Son of Valor has been delivered then as well, I assume?”

“Aye, Master. He be a mite of a lad, though. I wouldn’t be worried ‘bout the likes o’ him.”

Adams’ eyes narrowed behind his glasses. “You know the story of my demise as all do, dwarf. My first mistake was underestimating The Elementals; I’ll not do so again. And I have no intention of taking counsel from a traitorous Earth-Born. Do as you are told and keep your advice to yourself.”

The dwarf looked at his feet, trembling noticeably. “Aye, Master. Forgive mi disrespect.”

Adams paid the request no mind, lost in thought. The dwarf continued to stand with his hands behind his back, waiting on his lord’s command, whatever it may be.

Finally, Adams spoke. “So Air and Fire have not yet been delivered, while Water and Earth have. This may afford me some advantage that I had not considered. Are Fire and Air within the dwarven realms still?” he asked his spy.

The dwarf nodded. “Aye, Master. And there is one other.”

Adams’ eyebrow shot up. “One other? There are only four Elementals.”

The dwarf nodded quickly. “Aye, Master. But still there be one other who the elf brung with ‘em.”

“Human as well?” Adams asked with intense curiosity.

The dwarf nodded again. “A siblin’ of The Elementals, Master.”

Adams glared at his feet in thought. Five Elementals? But there were only four elements, of this he was certain. After all, had he not mastered the sorcery of all four? This news of a fifth sibling disturbed him greatly. He did not like being ignorant of important information, especially if that information could cost him everything he had worked eons for.

He balled his hand into a fist, then slowly flexed the fingers out again, in again, out again, as he watched the muscles and delicate bones undulate under his skin. The Great Queen had made humanity beautiful and awesome. It was a pity Adams had to destroy such magnificence.

But then again, destruction was a part of that magnificence, was it not?

When the sorcerer spoke, he did not look at the dwarf. “Find out what this fifth sibling is. It is vital that I know. The Great Queen may think she has found a secret weapon against me, but all she has done is put one more human in my path for destruction.” The sorcerer leaned forward again, grinning darkly at his spy. “As for the other two Elementals within your realm …”

The dwarf nodded loyally as he listened to his Master’s orders.

Hephaestus sat on his great chair, leaning his head against his hand as he listened to his advisors give their daily reports. He longed to be with Illthan and the boy, overseeing the Son of Valor’s first lessons in eons. However, as Earth-Lord, he knew these daily meetings were imperative, if boring.

Especially in these strange, sad days.

At the moment his miniscule food and game advisor, Barich Stonewall, was finishing up a typically long-winded report. “… and the fish be spawnin’ gloriously in the Rumble River this year, Earth-Lord. Meat be plentiful. We’ll be havin’ many feasts!”

Hephaestus waved a bored hand at the small, sparsely bearded dwarf. Like all non-warriors among the Earth-Born, Barich had no tattoos and had not earned a warrior name. Though his work was vastly important to the continued vitality of their people, Hephaestus could not bring himself to respect one such as him. Still, a good king always made his subjects feel appreciated, especially those who did such important work. “Wonderful, Barich. ‘Tis good to hear glad news.”

The advisor bowed thankfully at the compliment and took his leave, replaced almost instantly by Dreadaxe, Hephaestus’ war advisor. Unlike Barich, Dreadaxe was every inch a warrior, with many deep battle scars crisscrossing his proudly tattooed face, and an eye patch that spoke of the depth of his willingness to sacrifice for his people and his god. He stood tall for a dwarf, his head almost reaching the god’s shoulder, and his bright red hair was long and strong, braided all over both head and beard.

Hephaestus smiled warmly at his favorite advisor, though he knew Dreadaxe brought no good news. He had not ever since whisperings of betrayal and war between the sidhe had begun over thirty moons ago. Though, like many Earth-Born, the god enjoyed a good battle and even more a good war, he did not revel in fighting others who served under The Great Queen. Theirs was a destiny of goodness, all, and the idea of killing others who served good made his stomach roil.

Still, they had started it.

Dreadaxe bowed deep to his god. “Mi Lord, I bring sore news.”

Hephaestus nodded. “I assumed you had, Dreadaxe. What be it this time?”

“The Fire-Born be amassin’ an army to come agin’ us in our own Plane,” the advisor replied.

“What would be the point o’ that?” the god asked, perplexed. “There be nothing to burn here worth burnin’.”

Dreadaxe shook his head. “But, Mi Lord, they come not ta burn us.”

“What then?”

Dreadaxe cleared his throat and wrung his hands in obvious distress. No, the news was not good at all. “They come ta sack us… and take our young’uns.”

Hephaestus pounded a massive fist against his stone chair arm. “This be an outrage! An’ The Great Queen thinks we kin work with the likes o’ them?” He thought for a moment, then a slow smile spread across his bearded face. “But we have somethin’ that is dear ta them, don’t we Dreadaxe? Somethin’ that’s bound ta make ‘em think twice about takin’ our babes.”

“Mi Lord?”

The god glared, a wicked glint in his eye. “Their Elemental, mi friend. We have their precious Sorceress.”



“Where’s Quinn?” Ellen asked for what felt like the tenth time. Her patience, already not very strong, was wearing thin. “It’s bad enough I didn’t get to say goodbye to Kat; I don’t want the same thing happening with Quinn!”

The elf nodded. “As I said, Mistress, I understand your concern entirely. However, Hephaestus is a good Lord, true to The Great Queen. He won’t let anything happen to your brother.”

Ellen stood up from her stone and straw bed, stomping angrily. “That doesn’t answer my question!”

“Whoa. Ellen’s throwing fits,” Mae muttered from her place leaning against the back wall.

“You aren’t worried about Quinn?” Ellen asked, turning to her sister angrily.

“Not really,” Mae answered with a shrug.

Ellen gasped and Rose echoed her, giggling at her own toddler humor.

“Mae! How could you?” Ellen scolded.

Mae shrugged. “The way I figure it, if these dwarves are as crazy about Quinn as the mermaids are about Kat, then he’s fine. Heck, he’s probably swimming in chocolate ice cream… or whatever these guys have down here for sweets.” She eyed Romin. “So, when do I get worshiped?”

The elf raised an eyebrow. “Whatever do you mean, Sorceress?”

Mae shrugged. “OK. Have your secrets. I’m sure I’ll find out sooner or later anyway.”

“Romin. Where. Is. QUINN?” Ellen growled.

“QUINN!” Rose cried, pointing as the door opened and their brother walked in.

Ellen ran to hug him, followed closely by Rose.

“Toldya he was fine,” Mae retorted. Looking closer at her brother, she whistled. “Wowee, Boy! You look like you just got off an ancient battlefield!”

The boy’s clothes, including his fireman’s cap, were gone, replaced by dark blue cotton trousers cinched at the waist with rope, high, thick leather boots lined in brown fur, a brown fur-lined Sherpa hat, and a heavy black and white fur cloak. His chest was bare, and strapped across it with a thick black leather strap was…

“A sword?” Ellen cried, circling on Romin. “A sword? Quinn is six years old! He can’t have a weapon!”

“I got an axe too, but Illthan said I have to get the sword figured out first,” Quinn said, grinning as he strained to see the intricate black pommel that stuck up above his right shoulder. “Isn’t it cool?”

“Who’s Illthan?” Ellen asked. “Ya know what? Nevermind. Nevermind.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, then pushed her glasses up with a finger. “UGH! Romin, he can’t have a sword or an axe!”

The elf shrugged, looking at Quinn. “Seems to me it fits just fine. Dwarf weapons are made small, of course, but sturdy!”

Ellen growled. “That’s not what I mean. It’s too dangerous!”

The elf looked at her, confused. “But Mistress, this is all dangerous! Your brother is in far more danger without a weapon. Besides, he is Sir Quinn, Son of Valor. He can’t be who he is without weaponry.”

Ellen’s face fell, and she sat down on her bed with a whump, throwing her face into her cupped hands. “OK, Mae. Ya know what? You were right. This is all too dangerous, too real. We should get Kat and go home. Now.”

Romin gasped. “You can’t go now, Mistress!”

“Why not?” Ellen asked. “It’s probably about bedtime now anyway, and school’s starting in a couple weeks …”

The elf sighed. “Mistress, you can’t go home until you and your siblings fulfill your destiny. Here. I am not allowed to return you until then, and the Earthen Plane Surface is sealed …”

Ellen looked helplessly at Mae, who could only shrug in reply. With one last mumbling growl, she returned her attention to Romin.

“OK, fine. But no weapons.”

“Now how, young lass, how is yer brother ta fulfill his destiny with na use o’ his weapons, hmm?”

Everyone turned to see the owner of the new voice as he entered the room; a very old, very thin dwarf.

“Illthan!” Quinn cried, hugging the dwarf. “Guys, this is Illthan. He’s taught me so much about being a dwarf already …”

Illthan held up a finger. “Uh, uh, uh.”

Quinn bit his lip in thought. “Oh. Yeah. I mean …‘e’s been… tellin’ me much …‘bout … bein’ a dwarf!” The boy looked at Illthan hopefully.

The dwarf smiled. “Good lad, Sir Quinn! Yer right on yer way ta bein’ a proper dwarf, yet!”

“For the love of…” Ellen sighed. “Listen, Illthan. It’s nice to meet you and all, and I’m glad you can teach my brother… stuff… but he’s way too young to carry real weapons. I’m sure an… elder… like you understands that, right?”

Illthan considered this, wrinkling his already wrinkled brow even deeper. Finally, he shook his head. “I dunno what humans do with their lads, young lass, but dwarf lads be trainin’ with sword, pike and axe from the moment they kin walk. As it is, young Sir Quinn here be far behind in his trainin’. I were sore surprised ta find him without even basic parry skills!”

“That’s because human parents don’t give their babies real swords!” Ellen fumed. “He could cut his arm off! Not to mention if he decided to play swordfight with Mae or Kat or… God forbid… Rose!”

Illthan knit his brow. “Ye fear he don’t know how ta respect a sword, young lass?”

“I don’t fear it, Mr. Dwarf, I know it.”

Mae nodded with a snort. “He can’t even swing a stick without hitting something; usually something breakable or hurtable.”

Quinn balled up his fists and grimaced. “I can too use a sword right!” He sniffed and his face fell, bottom lip trembling. “Ellen… please let me prove it? Please?”

Ellen’s scowl softened, but she didn’t give in. Crossing her arms over her chest, she shook her head. “I can’t risk it, and neither can you.”

“Well, then, little lass, tis a good thing fer the world that ye don’t get ta chose, ain’t it?” Illthan said, matching her stance.

Ellen stood up, crossing the room and meeting the dwarf face to face with a glare. She poked him in the chest and opened her mouth to retort, but her words hung in midair as the door to their room burst open and a cadre of dwarven guards filed in, followed by Hephaestus himself.

The god glowered down at Romin. “Which one’s the Sorceress, elf?” he asked in a booming snarl.

“From where comes this sudden animosity, Earth-Lord?” Romin asked instead of answering. “Are we not all guests in your realm?”

The god growled again, leaning close to the elf. Grabbing Romin by the white t-shirt he still wore, Hephaestus hauled him bodily into the air and replied in a dangerously quiet tone within an inch of his face. “Ye be a guest, elf, as be the others who remain with ya, as long as ye cooperate. I have no quarrel with any o’ ye. But I want Fire as mi prisoner. Now.”

Romin seemed unphazed by the god’s threats. “I am an emissary from The Great Queen. You can’t harm me or any in my care. You know this, Earth-Lord.”

Hephaestus dropped the elf back onto the straw bed and glared down at him. “Then perhaps the Earth-Born will rescind our pledges of loyalty ta The Great Queen.”

Romin gasped. “You would not dare! It would be the end of your people!”

Hephaestus nodded, a wicked smile spreading across his face. “Aye. But also the end of the earth element, which, I am sure I don’t need ta tell ye, would be a grave loss ta the world, indeed.”

“But… why?” Romin asked, aghast.

The god replied angrily, spittle flying from his mouth as every word he spoke was spat out in bitterness. “The Great Queen has stood by an’ done nothin’ as threats and accusations have bombarded us from every other elemental plane. Our most recent treaties are barley worth the scrolls on which they’re writ. We be on the brink o’ war with all sidhe, and still she does nothin’! And now … ” The god roared in frustration and anger, punching a stone wall with a great crack of his massive fist. “Now the Fire-Born mean ta take our babes! Well I’ll be havin’ none o’ it! Great Queen or no, I ain’t standin’ fer this!”

Romin and Ellen glanced at each-other fearfully. Mae stood in the corner, terrified, trying to look small.

She was the one that Romin called Sorceress. The god’s wrath was directed at her.

Quinn’s bottom lip began to tremble as he watched Hephaestus’ misery. Suddenly, he sprang to the god’s side and grabbed hold of his leg, snuggling into the fur-lined boot in a strong hug.

“It’s OK, Earth-Lord! I’ll help protect our babies!”

The god gave the boy a tight smile. “I thank ye, lad, with all mi heart, I do.” He patted Quinn’s head fondly. “I had hoped ye would help yer people in this cursed war.”

“But the war is between all the sidhe,” Romin reminded the boy. “That means you would have to fight your own sisters.”

Quinn looked from Hephaestus to Mae, then back again, a strange look in his eyes. Mae silently willed her brother to keep his mouth shut.

The boy bit his lip in obvious uncertainty.

“Well, lad? Are ye a dwarf or ain’t ye?” Illthan asked quietly.

Slowly, the boy’s arm raised and he pointed at Mae. His next words came out almost robotic. “She’s the Sorceress.”

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3 Responses to “Betrayed”

  1. […] to Explore « My Top Seventeen Middle Grade Books of all Time! Song of Spirit ~ Chapter 7 […]

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