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The cost of freedom cuts deep.

Against the guidance of one he once trusted, Kuma continues blindly forward. Divine visions have promised him his wife’s freedom and reckless desperation now guides his steps.
The madness of her family is setting in but Amala no longer cares. Since the moment that Reece’s hand went cold in her own the world around her has felt empty and the flame within her heart desires only to set it ablaze.
The fates have dictated that their paths cross but whether they survive each other is yet to be seen.
Scorched earth and blood stains the winding road to the gateways.



Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Kuma paused and stared ahead, peering through the trees toward the mountains and smiling his carefree smile. “It’s not far now. My gateways are getting more accurate after all. I knew we’d find it.”

“I never doubted that we would. I simply wished we wouldn’t before I had succeeded in talking some sense into you.” Zerth shook his head. “I suppose after all these years I should have known how futile that hope was. You’ve likely heard nothing that I’ve said all this time.”

“I heard you.” He shrugged. “Don’t think that I don’t understand your concerns, old friend. I don’t have a choice. What if this vision is right?”

“And if it’s wrong? Do you understand what could happen to you if you come in contact with an elemental orb?”

“If the stories are to be believed, I will die quite horribly. It isn’t as though it would be my first death.”

“There will be no one to save you. My powers cannot counter what that orb will do to you.”

“I don’t expect you to do anything.” Kuma grew serious. “If I’m wrong and this vision is fraudulent, then let me die. Do not risk yourself to help me. Not again.”

“And what of Freya and your son?”

Kuma was silent and nodded slowly. “It’s for them that I have come. Death will not keep me from freeing them. I will find a way to transcend it if I must.”

“And just how will you do that?” Zerth questioned in frustration.

“I don’t know!” the young man snapped and looked up to see the leaves on the tree above him starting to fall. Kuma took a deep breath and stepped back from Zerth, his eyes now focused on the ground and his face etched with disappointment.

“I’m not your enemy, Kuma.” Zerth took a step toward him.

“Why do you approach me when you know what could happen?”

“Because I know you and I trust you.”

“Trust has nothing to do with this. Unless you believe that I did it on purpose.”

Zerth shook his head. “Actually, I’m surprised. I thought the strain of holding the human form was taking care of that excess energy. It was strenuous for you before.”

“Things change.” He sighed and looked into the elf’s fatherly eyes. “It just keeps building as if there is no limit to the power that could potentially manifest inside me. This form gets easier and easier.”

“I’ve noticed you hold it for days on end now.” Zerth held his breath a moment, staring into Kuma’s glowing golden eyes. “That is certainly a change to how it was in the beginning.”

Kuma nodded and clenched his fists. “Let’s keep going. Maybe the vision is trying to destroy me but maybe it’s because of the danger that I represent.”

Zerth stared at the back of Kuma’s head as he walked away. “Kuma, in your early vision quests you saw your own death . . .”

Kuma stopped, nodding as he kept his eyes focused on the ground ahead of him.

“Did you see yourself die at the top of that mountain when Varen gained his freedom?”

“I thought I had.” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “If my visions are correct, I’ll die twice more and not one of them will be at Varen’s hand.”


“Two more gifts to be protected.” Terran smiled to himself, watching the priests and druids leaving with the Children of Balance.

“Do you think there will come a time when only one child is born as it used to be?” Flint looked down at the baby in Solana’s arms before focusing on the spirit. “It worries me that there were two infants that emerged from the flames. That means that the threat to them remains, doesn’t it?”

Daray nodded. “Erika and I will be keeping a close watch on both of them. Soon, my kind will again populate Graythal.”

“I hope you’re right.” Flint sighed. “I fear the life that lays ahead of my daughter. What kind of world have we brought a child into?”

“A world that we will help keep safe,” Solana stated. “I will fight so long as there is breath within me.”

“You’re a survivor, Solana, and Kalea will be too.” Daray smiled and looked up as Erika approached. “Until our paths cross again—stay safe.”

The group watched Erika and Daray follow the path that the druids had taken, soon finding themselves alone in the trees.

Will you all come to the temple tonight?” Terran questioned. “It is getting quite late.

“I have no need to stay,” Amala said flatly.

Other than Cresson, you have the furthest to go.” The spirit smiled. “Stay and rest. Taji could use a break as well, I’m sure.

Amala looked toward the dragon who was seated against a nearby tree, his eyes slightly closed. “Fine,” she muttered and walked past them, heading toward the temple and pausing as she noticed Cresson following behind her. “Keep away from me, water user,” she grumbled.

Cresson paused, looking at the fiery-haired woman as she continued away from him. “Have I done something?” he questioned, looking toward the others for answers.

“It’s best you just leave her be.” Flint nodded.

“You likely remind her too much of someone that she lost,” Solana added.

“The Elemental Warrior that I stood in for?” he questioned and saw Amala’s steps falter briefly and noticed the dragon next to her tense.

Terran nodded. “Come along, lad. The temple isn’t far.

Cresson paused and stared at the cave entrance before turning his attention to Flint. “Tell me, do you feel a connection to the temple?”

“I suppose there is a strong sense of belonging here.” He shrugged. “I’ve never really thought about it.”

Cresson nodded.

“Have you ever been to the water temple?” Solana asked curiously.

“No.” He smiled. “It is a lifelong dream to one day see it but it isn’t likely that I will ever find my way there. Undine has other plans for me.”

“Will you be staying on Whryx? Is this to be your home?” Flint inquired.

“I will be here for a while.” Cresson nodded. “How long depends on many things. I was simply a stand-in for today’s ritual.”

“So you’re not an Elemental Warrior?”

“I am but I do not have nearly as strong a hold on my element as what you all do with yours. My journey as Undine’s servant is as a guardian but not to the Children of Balance. I do not share your fate.”


“Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.” Zerth bowed his head toward the High Priest. “Forgive me but you are much younger than I expected you to be.”

“There was an attack on our temple not long ago and many of the older brethren were slaughtered protecting this place. Speak freely, strangers. There is no need for secrets within these walls. Secrets lead to darkness.” He looked toward Kuma. “Secrets soil the soul.”

“My secrets are my own.” Kuma shrugged. “What is within my mind will remain there. You will do nothing but give yourself a headache trying to read my thoughts.”

“Do you often search for answers in such a way?” Zerth questioned calmly.

“We have grown wary of outsiders. As you are both strangers not only to this temple but to this land, it is my place to deem if you are friend or foe.”

The elf nodded. “What did you find in my mind?”

“Nothing, as his. No doubt he felt the need to protect you both.”

“As a stranger to us,” Kuma looked at the priest, “you cannot expect me to trust you in such a way. Anyone skilled with peering into the minds of others can also learn to do damage to them. I will not permit such a thing to myself nor my friend.”

“I would never have harmed you,” he said defensively.

“Unless you saw what might be a threat.” Kuma smiled. “Perhaps we should start again. We will speak as though magic does not exist amongst us.”

“Hardly appropriate considering a vision has brought us here.” Zerth sighed and sat down in a nearby chair, leaning back heavily and slowly twisting the cord around his wrist.

“Are you all right, old friend?” Kuma looked toward the elf, ignoring as the High Priest shifted in his chair.

“It has been a long journey, Kuma. Say what you have come to say so that we can continue on your path.”

Kuma turned back to the High Priest and stared into his fearful eyes.

“I haven’t harmed your friend,” he stated.

Kuma laughed. “I’m aware of that. If you had made any move toward him while you were trying to search his mind, you would not have been given even a moment to explain yourself. I am not hostile, I assure you, but I will protect those I care about.”

The High Priest nodded, getting to his feet and taking a step back before staring up into the imposing man’s stern golden eyes. “Why have you come here? Your friend mentioned a vision.”

“Yes—he did.” Kuma nodded, looking toward Zerth who seemed to be nearly asleep in the chair. “Do you have a healer here?”

“Don’t be foolish,” Zerth muttered, his eyes remaining closed. “That’s not what we came here for. Don’t waste time. We don’t have it to waste.”

Kuma shook his head.

“Have you changed your mind?” the elf questioned. “Come to your senses?”

“No.” Kuma sighed.

“Why have you come here?” the High Priest asked, attempting to force confidence back into his voice.

“A vision has sent me here. My intention is to make contact with the orb of earth.”

The man’s eyes grew wide. “Are you an Earthen Warrior?”

“No,” Kuma hesitated. “I am something else.”

The man shook his head. “Contact with the orb will kill you. Do you understand that? Whatever your dream has said would come of such contact is false.”

“It was not a dream. It was a vision,” Kuma stated. “You know nothing about me to state such a thing with any form of certainty.”

“The last man who touched the orb is dead and he was an Elemental Warrior. He contacted the orb and it merged with his body. For it to be returned, he needed to die. Even if I allowed you to touch it and you lived, you would not be permitted to leave here with it. We would be forced to kill you.”

“What if I could assure you that the orb would not leave the temple? It will not affect me as it did the others.”

“You cannot guarantee that.” The High Priest sighed and retook his seat. “It will destroy you. Mortals were not meant to touch it.”

“May I at least see it?” Kuma questioned. “Bind my hands. Place guards around the orb. Do whatever you will but at least let me see it.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I will not take that risk.”

“I have travelled a long way,” Kuma pleaded.

“What exactly did you see in this vision?” he asked curiously.

Kuma straightened. “That is none of your concern.”

The man nodded before slowly shaking his head. “I can’t let you near the orb nor the chamber it is kept in. I am sorry.”

“You have to,” Kuma growled.

“Calm, lad,” Zerth said softly. “Keep your calm.”

Kuma looked toward his exhausted friend then back at the startled priest.

“You may stay here the night. I will see to it that you are both given a bed and whatever provisions we can spare for your journey home. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I cannot risk what we fought to protect. Too many lives have been lost to simply open the doors to the orb. The Earthen Warriors are not near as strong without it in its place. After what Varen did, we must be cautious.”

“Varen?” Kuma choked on the name. “He’s been here?”

The High Priest stared at Kuma. “How do you know of this man?”

“That’s complicated.” He looked away.

“We would appreciate the room for the night. Thank you again for seeing us and at least hearing us out. I understand how strenuous finding yourself in this position must be. We are grateful to you.” Zerth stood and bowed his head “May peace soon find us all.”


“There is no need to be upset with him, Kuma,” Zerth reasoned. “His decision may very well have saved your life.”

Kuma shook his head. “It is not his place to stop me,” he growled. “He said Varen attacked this place. If that’s true, then how is it that they have reclaimed it? How could they have possibly faced Varen and succeeded?”

“He underestimated the guards of this place.” Amala stood firmly in the middle of the hall, blocking their path. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Kuma looked from Amala to the large blue gold dragon that stood behind her before fixing his eyes with hers. “Who I am is not any of your concern and why I’m here is between me and the High Priest.”

The two continued to glare at each other while the dragon and Zerth exchanged exasperated glances. “Come now, Kuma, that’s no way to make friends.”

“I have no interest in making friends with any of the Elemental Warriors.” He shrugged. “I am certain that this young woman has no interest in making friends with strangers either.”

“I certainly don’t need a friend the likes of you,” Amala scoffed.

“Being alone is easier, isn’t it?” He nodded. “If you’ll excuse me.”

“You’re not going anywhere until you answer my question.” Amala placed her hand on her sword.

“Amala, he is a guest of the temple.” Terran quickly approached the tense group. “We are aware of his presence here. There is no need for your hostility.”

“He’s not trustworthy,” she grumbled.

“Get some rest, Amala,” the spirit said gently. “No doubt you and Taji had a long journey getting here.”

“I’m fine,” she snapped, shoving her way past Kuma and Zerth and knocking the elf to the ground. She paused and stared down at him before hurrying away.

Taji hesitated slightly, shooting them an apologetic glance before following Amala down the hall.

“Are you all right?” Terran questioned, watching Kuma help the elf to his feet. “Allow me to apologize for her actions.”

“No need.” Zerth nodded. “Sorrow is a powerful emotion and it changes people. Sometimes it makes them do things that they would not normally dream of. Such as arguing with strangers.”

“I’ve always argued with strangers,” Kuma grumbled. “She’ll get no special treatment from me. I look forward to leaving this place.”

“Shall I guide you to your rooms? These halls can be a bit confusing at times.” Terran smiled.

“Thank you.” Zerth looked curiously at the spirit. “Is it your connection to the earth orb that allows us to see you or something else?”

“I have been held by the orb and choices I made have placed me where I am now. The High Priest did not lie to you both. Touching the orb guarantees death, even for us. It’s the way of these things. They are divine tools and we are mortal.”

“Why are you still here?” Kuma questioned.

“I wasn’t ready to leave. There is always a way to remain if you are willing to do anything to protect those you care for. Lingering in this realm is the price that I pay for that. It’s a decision that I do not regret.”

“What did you do to stay?”

Terran paused and looked into Kuma’s golden eyes. “It’s easier to stay alive. You seem healthy and strong to me, not one who is close to meeting with death. Of course, if you have a habit of arguing with short-tempered elementals then you might not have as long as you seem to.”


Chapter 2

Amala sat up abruptly, wiping the sweat off her brow and glancing around the dark room. Chaotic images of a winged man seemed to linger ahead of her, slowly growing closer, and she held her breath as she struggled to calm her nerves and light the nearby lantern. As the light filled the room, she stared at the dragon who’d moved to her side. Forcing a smile, she sighed. “I’m sorry. I woke you, didn’t I?”

The dragon shook his head, placing his claw carefully on her hand.

“I had a dream is all.” She looked down at his claw. “I wish you’d speak to me again. I know what happened before but . . . you know things that I need to understand.”

The dragon pulled his claw back and took a step away, slowly shaking his head.

“We should go back to the farm, shouldn’t we? Jensi could hear you, just as Reece did. Surely it’s frustrating for you to be forced to travel in silence. Why do you stay with me?”

Taji sighed, focusing on the ground before pointing to Amala’s forehead and grunting.

“The dream?” she questioned and the dragon nodded. “It was chaos. I saw a creature that . . . The stranger. It was him. It had to be.”

The dragon cocked his head.

“I don’t trust him. His soul is alight with anger and fear.” She looked into the dragon’s eyes. “I know fire when I sense it. He’s not what he appears to be. He shouldn’t be left unattended.”


Zerth opened his eyes and looked up into the shadows of the night, listening to the silence that surrounded him before rolling to his side. As sleep steadily retook him, his groggy mind became aware of a nearby sound and he rose quickly from the bed. Wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, he reached for a nearby lantern and snapped his fingers to light it. Half asleep, he staggered forward, taking a moment to get his balance before moving into the adjacent room where he found Kuma in a fitful sleep.

“Kuma, wake up.” He knelt cautiously next to the man, aware of the dangers that his nightmares often presented to those around him. After a long moment with no response, Zerth noticed a small vortex growing above the man. The old elf reached beneath the spiralling air to shake Kuma’s shoulder and was startled as he was pulled to the ground. Quickly pulling himself free of the claws, he looked from the blue gold dragon to the growing vortex moving steadily toward them. “We need to wake him. It’s the only way to stop this.”

Taji looked into the elf’s eyes and nodded, moving away from the vortex and approaching Kuma. He growled in the man’s ear, then struck him in the face with his tail, moving quickly away as Kuma leapt to his feet.

“What are you doing here?” he snapped, glaring wide-eyed at the dragon. As the creature shifted his focus, Kuma chanced following his gaze and gasped as he saw the vortex approaching Zerth. He held his breath, fighting to move the volatile spiral away from the elf and sighing with relief as it dissipated. “Are you all right?”

“You were having a nightmare.”

Kuma nodded, clenching his fists before looking toward the dragon. “Did Amala send you to spy on us?”

Taji looked away.

“I’ll have to thank her. If not for your presence, the old elf may have gotten hurt. Thank you.” Kuma sighed and met the dragon’s gaze as he looked back at him. “Did you see that?” he questioned after watching Taji leave.


“That look in his eyes . . . that isn’t the look of a dragon,” he said slowly.

“You’ve only known one dragon, Kuma. You’re hardly qualified to make such an observation.”

“Perhaps, but I . . . ,” Kuma paused and looked into Zerth’s eyes, “all right, it can wait.”

“Was it a dream or a vision?”

“I think I know what brought us here.” He sighed.

“Was this Varen’s doing?”

“I’m sorry that I never listened to you. You were right.”

“What did you see?”

“They have him trapped in this very temple. He’s in a pillar of stone but that’s not going to hold him. I suspect that he let them trap him. He’s more powerful than that.”

“Maybe he isn’t.”

“Zerth, I know that it can’t be that simple.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he and I are . . . ,” Kuma swallowed nervously, “we’re the same.”

“You are not the same,” Zerth stated firmly. “You will never be like him, Kuma. You know your own soul.”

“Zerth,” Kuma looked away, “I will free Freya and my son and it will not matter what I have to do to accomplish that. Does that not make Varen and I the same? We are both willing to do whatever it takes to reach our goals.”

The old elf looked up into Kuma’s eyes. “If Varen is here and about to escape, then maybe you can do something to keep him trapped. Keeping him here should mean that we can find Freya and your son and free them.”

Kuma nodded. “It seems too simple.”

“Let’s hope that, for once, things can be simple.”


“I need to have a word with you,” Kuma stated, taking a seat in a nearby chair.

“How did you get in here?” the High Priest gasped.

“That isn’t really a concern for you right now.”

“You’re interrupting my morning prayers, stranger. I would appreciate it if you leave,” he stated.

“Prayers won’t help you when Varen escapes.”

The High Priest continued to stare at Kuma, his composure waning. “I’m not sure what you think you know but Varen is not a concern to our temple any longer.”

“Don’t be so foolish,” he snapped, beginning to pace. “I know that he’s here and that you think you have him trapped but it’s all a ruse. Varen has no intention of staying where he is.”

The man continued to stare at the stranger. “Why would Varen allow himself to be trapped?”

Kuma shook his head. “He means to draw someone here, that is the only explanation that I can see. He is far too powerful for you to have encased him as you think you have.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Divine visions.” Kuma shrugged.

The High Priest looked up at the men entering his room. “I think your dreams sound disturbing, stranger, but they are nothing for me to worry about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I would like to complete my prayers.”

“Take a look at the tomb. You will see signs that he is not subdued,” he snapped and was startled when two men grabbed him. He looked from one to the other and took a deep breath. “Fine. This temple’s destruction will be on your soul.”


“What was that?” Solana peered into the darkness, reaching out to steady the bassinet laying next to her before quickly taking the sleeping child in her arms as the ground trembled again. “Flint, did you feel that?”

“I think it was an earthquake,” he answered breathlessly.

Solana stared through the thick shadows toward his voice. “Are you all right?”

“I’m just half asleep, love. Are you and Kalea all right?”

“She seems to have slept through it,” Solana answered.

“Good,” Flint replied, an obvious note of relief in his voice. He sat up and reached his hand forward, placing it on Solana’s shoulder. “I’m relieved.”

“Your hand is cold,” she whispered, fighting the fear within her and gripping tighter to their daughter. “She isn’t an earth elemental, is she?”

“Thankfully, no,” he answered, getting to his feet and taking a few steps toward the doorway where he shifted the curtain and looked out into the candle-lit hall. “I’m going to find out what’s happening. Stay here with Kalea.”

“Flint, is something attacking the temple?”

“I’m not sure,” Flint took a sharp breath, “but I want you and Kalea to stay far from the earth orb, do you understand me? If things take a turn for the worst, then you must get away from here. Find Daray and Erika, they’ll take care of you both.”

“What are you saying?” she stuttered. “I’m not just leaving you.”

Flint looked back and shook his head. “I don’t know for certain that there is anything to fear,” he answered, gripping his chest as another earthquake rocked the temple, “but there might be.”

Solana looked into Flint’s pain-filled eyes then down at Kalea. “I promise. She will be kept safe.”

“And you as well, Solana.” Flint smiled and looked longingly at his family before hurrying from the room. Reaching the end of the hall, the temple was again struck by a quake, this one stronger than the others had been. Flint gasped and lost his balance, looking up as he realized that someone had caught him.

“Are you all right?” Cresson questioned, holding him up. “Flint, right?”

Flint managed to nod but found he could force no words from his lips.

“The orb chamber?” he questioned and when Flint nodded again he pulled his arm around his shoulder and began to help him forward.


“I warned you,” Kuma scolded.

“Don’t speak down to these people. You are a stranger here,” Zerth soothed.

“I was right. This could have been prevented if he had just listened to me.”

“It does appear that you were correct.” The High Priest bowed his head. “There are cracks appearing on Varen’s tomb. It does appear that he is trying to escape.”

“How do you know that those cracks weren’t caused by the quake itself?” Amala questioned. “Why jump to the conclusion that this stranger should be trusted?”

“A normal earthquake would not affect the elementals,” Cresson answered. “Only an attack on the orb would do that.”

Amala turned her eyes toward Flint who’d been sitting quietly away from the group, quickly realizing that he was shaking. She hurriedly turned her focus to the woman seated next to him and the baby in her arms. “Solana, was she . . . ?” her words faltered.

“Kalea’s all right,” Solana said gently.

Amala’s stern look returned and she glared at Kuma. “Who are you? How do you know of Varen?”

“That’s not your concern,” Kuma grumbled. “Who I am has no importance on this.”

“Wouldn’t you ask that question of a stranger?” Cresson questioned, meeting eyes with Kuma.

Kuma shook his head and scoffed. “No matter the answer I give, it could be a lie or the truth. Those who have already made their decision about me will say that I’m deceptive.”

“You’re right,” Amala snarled. “I doubt you’d know what the truth was. You seem to me to be someone who’s told a lot of lies.”

“And you are someone who’s been hurt very deeply.” Kuma stared into Amala’s eyes. “For that reason, you may be treated as fragile by those around you but do not expect that of me. You are far from weak.”

Amala glared at Kuma.

“How did you know that Varen was here?” Terran questioned. “Is that what brought you here?”

“As I’ve explained, a vision brought me here. I now suspect that it was Varen’s presence that drew me to this place,” he answered. “I am here to help if you’ll have it.”

“It took the Elemental Warriors to trap him the first time. I doubt there is anything that you could do,” Terran answered. “I mean no disrespect to you, stranger, but it is my understanding that our magic is stronger than that of almost any other.”

“There are those stronger than you,” Kuma replied.

“Certainly not you,” Amala muttered.

“Why do you think that you could do something against this man?” Cresson questioned. “You’re a stranger in these lands, aren’t you? What could you possibly know of him?”

“Don’t think for a moment that we haven’t noticed that you have the same accent,” Amala growled, glaring at Cresson. “Not only the same accent but the same air of nobility about you.”

“Do any of you know what a daemon is?” Kuma questioned.

“Creatures of chaos,” Solana whispered.

Kuma nodded. “If only those creatures had remained in their own realm, then you would have little to fear.”

“You’re aware that Varen is a daemon?” Terran nodded.

“A daemon,” the High Priest gasped. “Those creatures haven’t been seen in centuries. They are nothing but a myth now.”

“They haven’t needed to be seen. Daemons can walk around and look the same as you or me but they are not the same. They have continued to inhabit Graythal all this time. Some of them not even knowing their own identities,” Kuma explained.

“Some of them so far removed that the stain of chaos is a curse,” Amala whispered.

“Daemons do not appear as we do. Once they take on their true form, they are forced to live that way,” Solana pressed. “A true daemon who calls forth the chaos cannot hide amongst the crowds.”

“The stronger ones can,” Kuma replied. “I swear to you, Varen is one of these creatures.”

“Daemons are supposed to be guardians—they’re supposed to be protectors.” Solana gripped her daughter tighter to her chest.

“Do you really think that there aren’t those amongst the daemons who can be swayed by their own desires or choose paths that may negatively alter the lives of the innocent? It has happened for centuries and will continue,” Kuma explained.

“If Varen is as you say, then what makes you think that you can face him?” Amala questioned.

“I am offering my help to all of you, that is all.” He shrugged.

“I think you’re here to free him,” Amala accused. “There was no movement from him until you showed up. No cracks in the stone, no quakes, nothing. Now a stranger appears and Varen is suddenly trying to break free. It doesn’t make sense that you are here to help us.”

“You think I’m here to free Varen?” Kuma gasped.

“Are you?” Amala snapped. “You tell us nothing and allow us to make our own assumptions and I have made mine. I do not trust you and I think that you’re here to see to it that we all die. I think you’re a servant and your master is buried in this temple and you’re here to free him.”

Kuma glared at Amala.

“I assure you, my lady, that we—” Zerth said calmly.

“Quiet!” Amala snapped. “Are you his servant? I can’t see anyone destroying themselves of their own accord to help another. Obviously, this man cares nothing for his own servants to allow such a thing. No doubt he is just like his own master.”

“You can make all the accusations you wish of me but do not speak to this man with anything but respect,” Kuma growled.

“Respect is earned and this frail elf will not be earning mine,” she answered, turning her focus to Zerth. “He’ll be the death of you.”

Zerth shook his head. “You know little of what you speak, child.” He looked toward the dragon who was staring at Kuma. “I think it’s time we leave. They have no interest in listening to you. You’re wasting your time.”

“They’re fools,” he grumbled, turning and walking through the group.

“What would you do against Varen?” Solana questioned.

“He’d die,” Amala muttered.

Kuma glared at Amala, taking a step toward her only to be knocked to the ground by a sudden tremor. As the room continued to shake, he looked up to see a portion of the ceiling come loose above Amala and quickly raised his hand to stop it from striking her. As the ground settled again, he allowed the stone to fall behind her before getting to his feet and reaching down to help Zerth up.

“Kuma, did you—” Zerth questioned.

“It wasn’t me,” he interrupted.

“Were you trying to prove a point?” Amala snapped. “Trying to kill us all will not make us trust you.”

“You can’t honestly believe that I did this.” Kuma stared toward her and shook his head. “I thought the priest was impossible but you Elemental Warriors are much worse.”


Chapter 3

“What exactly did you hope to accomplish by arguing with that woman?” Zerth questioned.

“I don’t know.” Kuma shook his head. “She radiates with anger. I just couldn’t help it. It’s almost as though she was able to—”

“She’s been hurt and has built some awfully thick walls around herself. Everyone seems suspect to her.” Zerth nodded.

“The dragon that follows her must know something we don’t because I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to help that woman,” he grumbled.

“Then why did you just save her?”

Kuma shrugged. “I was there.”

“You wouldn’t let someone innocent die, Kuma. I know you better than that.”

“Maybe I’m not the same man you knew. Things have changed after all. How can I hope to stay who I was?”

Zerth shook his head and smiled. “Because somewhere out there is a woman who is longing for you and a child who needs to know his father. You must survive for them. You must keep true to yourself for them, if not for you.”

Kuma turned away from Zerth and stared at the stone wall ahead of him. “Amala was right, wasn’t she? Travelling with me is detrimental to your health.”

Zerth laughed.

“You once told me that your place was by my side. My father sent you to watch over me and you protected me within Tishowla but I don’t need you there any longer. Why do you stay with me?”

“Friendship.” He shrugged.

“Damnit, Zerth, tell me the truth,” he snapped and the cavern shook. He closed his eyes and sat back. “That one was me.”

“You’re vibrating.” Zerth nodded and sat next to Kuma, taking a small glowing pyramid-shaped stone from within his cloak. “Focus on this.”

Kuma stared at the stone uncertainly. “I’ve seen that before,” he whispered, his eyes growing heavy as he leaned his head back.

“You say that almost every time.” Zerth sighed, placing his hand on Kuma’s chest and drawing the chaotic power from within him and into the clear orb in his other hand. As he felt himself losing consciousness, the old elf placed the objects within the folds of his cloak and leaned his head against the wall, fighting to stay awake as the temple was rocked by another quake.


“Do you think this will work?” Solana whispered.

“By fusing the cracks with other elements, there is a chance that we can keep him imprisoned,” Terran offered.

“Unless of course, that stranger is here to help him and is working against us,” Amala muttered.

“That isn’t possible,” Flint said firmly. “No one can counter each of the elements. Not while we are the ones wielding them.”

“That isn’t true,” Cresson interrupted.

“Don’t tell me that you think there is truth to what the stranger said. Daemons might exist but they are bound to the same rules as any other,” Amala stated.

“Why are you all so quick to distrust that man?” Cresson questioned. “Is it simply because he’s a stranger? I suppose you all feel the same way about me then, don’t you?”

“You were sent here by Undine. You’ve been called here and for that reason, we trust you,” Terran stated.

“That’s all they need,” Amala added. “I don’t trust you.”

“I’ve gotten that impression.” Cresson nodded. “I assure you, what he said is true. Stronger daemons have been known to manipulate multiple elements at once. If Kuma is right and Varen is a daemon, imagine how powerful he’d have to be to hide his true form.”

“Kuma?” Solana looked toward Cresson. “Is that his name? Did he introduce himself to you?”

“Not exactly,” Cresson replied.

“You do know each other, don’t you?” Amala snapped. “You—”

“We don’t have time to make guesses nor accusations. Something needs to be done,” the High Priest interrupted. “If there is any chance that this can work, then we must try it.”

“Be careful,” Terran advised. “I suggest closing the cracks with different elements. If you sense someone else is working on a crack, then move on to the next.”

The four nodded and focused their eyes on the stone in front of them. Soon the slivers in the pillar began to fuse together leaving veins of red, blue, white, and brown across the stone.

“It’s no use,” Solana said as she sat back. “The moment I close one, another opens.”

“She’s right,” Flint agreed. “We have to find another way. It’s almost as if he’s mocking us from in there. Letting us think that we’ve made progress then taking it back.”

Cresson nodded, sinking to his knees with his eyes tightly closed. “I think you might be right.”

Amala stared toward Cresson, noticing a tremor in his shoulders. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine,” he answered.

“Lad?” Terran asked nervously.

“Listen, you travel all that distance and then perform a bunch of tasks like these and tell me that you wouldn’t be a bit fatigued,” Cresson growled and shook his head. “If this isn’t going to work, then I suggest we ask Kuma for help.”

“What makes you think that he could help us?” Amala grumbled.

“And why would he after everything we’ve said and done?” Solana whispered. “He’s technically a prisoner here now.”

“If he is who he says he is, he’ll help us,” Cresson said firmly.

“The decision to allow the stranger anywhere near the orb is mine to make,” the High Priest stated, wringing his hands.


Kuma took a sharp breath and struggled to open his eyes against the pounding in his head. As his vision cleared, Zerth came into view across from him, lying surrounded by debris. “Zerth!” he gasped, the remaining fog falling from his mind.

Struggling to his feet, Kuma stumbled to the elf’s side and hurriedly knelt next to him, surveying the gash across his forehead. “Talk to me, old friend,” he begged, shaking the man’s shoulder and waiting for a response that seemed unwilling to come. His hands trembling, Kuma touched the wound and did his best to close it.

“Don’t exhaust yourself, lad,” Zerth whispered.

“You scared me,” Kuma stuttered. “Why was I unconscious? I don’t remember the ground shaking again.”

“You were knocked down quickly,” he answered. “You have been tired. It was likely a stone took advantage of that.” Zerth sat up slowly, the room swaying around him. He touched his hand to what was left of the wound on his head and sighed. “Not a bad job, young man.”

“If the daemons were still around as a people, maybe then I could ask why such a powerful group of guardians are such poor healers.”

“What’s to say that anyone would have an answer?” The old elf leaned back.

“It would be nice to have a community to ask questions of though.”

“They’d likely fear you,” Zerth whispered and his eyes grew wide. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”

“You’re probably right,” Kuma stated, his eyes focused on the entryway to the chamber. “Were the guards scared off by the quake?”

“One of them was injured,” the High Priest answered as he entered the room, another priest close behind him. “The other saw that you were both injured as well and went for a healer, although you seem fine now, stranger.”

“Look after Zerth.” Kuma shrugged his shoulders. “Do not worry about me.”

The High Priest nodded and the man who had accompanied him hurried to Zerth’s side.

“I have come for another reason,” he said hesitantly.

Kuma looked at the man. “And what would that be?”

“We’ve tried to seal the cracks on Varen’s tomb,” he said slowly. “The Elemental Warriors have found that each crack they seal causes another to appear.”

“He’s taunting you.” Kuma shrugged. “He’s not trapped at all. He’s simply waiting.”

“Waiting for what?” the High Priest questioned. “Will you help us? Can you help us?”

“I’m not sure.”


“Have you come up with a new explanation as to who you are and what you’re doing here?” Amala questioned.

“I’m here to help you. What more do you want?” Kuma shrugged.

“Would you at least tell us how you know of Varen?” Terran questioned. “How did you come to be here?”

Kuma slowly surveyed those around him and sighed. “I explained to the High Priest that a vision brought me here. I was led to believe that I would find something here that would help me sa . . . ,” he hesitated, shaking his head and focusing on the ground. “The vision was either fraudulent or I misinterpreted it. There’s nothing here. Just another false hope.”

“Are you a druid?” Solana asked gently. “Some druids have visions and magic like you.”

Kuma shook his head. “The druids and I do share some heritage.”

“But who are you?”

“A stranger.” Kuma smiled briefly. “Amala’s suspicions are correct. I suppose nobles all have an air about us, don’t we? I am the last in a long line of guardians with knowledge of the Book of Secrets, the text that once kept Varen prisoner.”

“The Book of Secrets?” Terran inquired.

“Also known as the Book of Ivory, right?” Amala glared at Kuma.

“That’s right. How did you know that?” Kuma questioned. “Few in my lands knew of the existence of that book.”

“That’s my business,” she grumbled.

Kuma nodded. “Ivory was a seer who, with the help of her niece, trapped Varen in the book long ago. He has now escaped that prison and aims to complete the task he set out to all those years ago.”

“And what is that?” Flint questioned.

“I believe he intends to open the gates and allow the five realms to mix. No doubt you have already been subjected to the demons he draws forth from the dark realm. Can you imagine what would become of Graythal’s people if the gates were opened?”

“Most would be slaughtered.” Amala shrugged. “Only warriors would survive. It might do good for Graythal to be rid of some of the useless nobility.”

“And what of the young, the old, the sick?” Kuma turned his gaze back to Amala. “Unprotected, they too will die.”

“What do you hope to do against someone who can draw the demons into our realm?” Flint questioned.

“I’ll help you in any way that I can. The priest mentioned that you have tried to seal the cracks using your own elements. This failed of course because Varen is not limited to one element. I know you doubt my word on this but you need only look for yourselves to know that I’m telling the truth. As each element has those more fit to be its warriors, so too do the daemons have stronger brethren.”

“Maybe the daemons should be dealing with Varen then. If he is one of them, shouldn’t they punish him?” Amala growled.

“If the daemons were more than a vast and lost group, then maybe they would,” Kuma replied, doing his best to keep his calm. “Many daemons can no longer survive their soul’s form and even if they could, Varen is an ancient daemon. Whatever Ivory did to trap him was beyond simple magics—it was divine intervention.”

“So who freed him?” Amala snapped. “You have all this knowledge, can you answer a basic question or will you dismiss this one as well?”

“Have you ever done something reckless to save someone you love?” Kuma sighed. “I freed him while trying to save my sister’s soul and the lives of two innocent people who didn’t deserve to face his wrath. I’m responsible for the plague that Varen brings and I will make it right.”

“You!” Amala’s eyes grew wide. “You freed him?”

“Yes.” Kuma nodded and held his hand up to disperse the ball of flame that flew his way.

“You’re responsible for all this death, all this suffering.” Amala shook with rage as Flint and Solana did their best to pull her back. “You will pay for what you’ve done!” Amala snapped, breaking free and lunging at Kuma.


“All you’re doing is exhausting yourself.” Kuma shook his head, calmly blocking another fireball. “It would benefit you to take a moment and reflect on that.”

“Shut up!” she growled, her shoulders shaking and tears stinging her eyes. “It’s your fault. All of it.”

“Lady Amala, while I likely understand why you wish to kill me, would your wrath not be better suited toward Varen? At least until his threat is dealt with?”

Amala glared at Kuma and took a step back. “Fine.”

“Fighting amongst yourselves—keeping secrets—have you learned nothing?” a cold voice questioned from the doorway.

Flint let out a groan and hit his knees as the ground shook violently.

“Flint!” Solana cried, hurrying to his side and falling to the ground next to him.

“Is he all right?” Amala questioned.

“He’s unconscious,” she whispered fearfully, looking up and staring wide-eyed as demons began to appear around them. Solana struggled against the fear within her, fighting to get back to her feet. “Amala, there’s—”

“They won’t touch you,” she said firmly. “I promise you, Solana. So long as there is breath in my body, these creatures will get nowhere near you and Taji won’t let anything near Kalea.”

“You’re still a cocky little fireball, aren’t you?” Varen laughed. “I don’t think that dragon friend of yours is capable of much. Trusting him to watch the infant all alone . . .” He shook his head and unceremoniously raised his hand to block the fire spell that was sent his way. “No need to worry, the child is of no concern to me. You need not fear for her life, only your own.”

Amala gasped as a wave of power struck her chest and sent her flying backward. She tensed as she prepared to strike the wall but instead found herself back on her feet.

“Focus on the demons,” Kuma ordered.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Amala snapped.

“Varen isn’t just here to attack you. Focus on weakening his army,” he replied calmly. Pulling his attention from Amala, Kuma took a breath and moved steadily through the demons until he was able to see Varen clearly across from him. With the man seemingly unaware of his presence, he focused his powers and forced Varen into the wall, causing the stones from the ceiling to come down on his head.

Varen quickly forced the look of shock from his face, getting to his feet and dusting himself off as he scanned the room, his eyes widening as he stared at Kuma. “I sensed a strong force had come to the temple but I could never have dreamed that it would be you. Shouldn’t you be elsewhere?”

“A vision—”

Varen smiled. “No wonder death has yet to take you. She has claimed you, hasn’t she? Foolish woman.”

Kuma stared at Varen, then shook his head. “Where is Freya?”

“You’ve been betrayed, Kuma. Surely you understand that? The enemy you seek is not me,” he stated. “Freya is where she needs to be. Where I can watch over and protect her from you.”

“What are you—” Kuma gasped as the floor beneath his feet sprang up and began to swirl around him. After freeing himself from the vortex, he turned toward the sound of a woman’s scream and saw that the demons were pressing closer to Solana as she tried desperately to protect the unconscious Earthen Warrior. Scanning the room, he saw Zerth near the High Priest and Amala and Cresson trying to fight back the demons. “I don’t have time for this,” he muttered.

“Kuma, don’t!” Zerth called above the chaos of the room.

Kuma held his breath as the orange light that had enveloped him erupted in a quick flash. He took a step back, dropping to one knee and looking up to see the startled faces of the Elemental Warriors. “Where is the orb?”

“What makes you think—” Amala started.

“Argue with me later,” he spat, forcing himself back to his feet. “Varen is headed toward it and unless you want to see Flint and others like him dead, I suggest we get there quickly.”

Chapter 2
Chapter 3


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