The Elemental: Rootbound Part 1
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PRAISE FOR THE ELEMENTAL SERIES.
"I love Shannon's Rylee Adamson series . . . and I was wonderfully surprised that I loved her Elemental Series even more!"
-Denise Grover Sw.a.n.k USAT & NYT Bestselling Author of the "Chosen Series"
"I could not put it down and greedily consumed it in one sitting!"
-Books In Veins.
"I think Larkspur aka Lark is the new heroine to watch out for . . ."
-Coffee Book Mom Reviews.
"What a fantastic start to a new fantasy series! I love a strong female lead and we were delivered that in spades with Larkspur . . . This story is fast paced and exciting right from the start. I can't wait to see what comes next!"
-Boundless Book Reviews.
This one's for my dad.
Rootbound takes place twenty-five years after Larkspur was banished to the desert. While it isn't essential to reading Rootbound, the novella Elementally Priceless will fill in what happened to Lark for part of that time. If you want more of the time period we jump over (again, not essential to enjoying Rootbound) Lark's story does intersect with Rylee Adamson in the later books of The Rylee Adamson series.
When a potted plant has outgrown its container, the roots become entangled and matted together, and the growth of the plant becomes stunted. When repotting, loosen and tear the roots on the edges of the root ball, forcing them to once again grow outward.
"ou know, I don't mind following you, Lark, because the view is truly enjoyable with the sway of your hips, the sweet lines of your body and the way your hair swirls on the air, but maybe you could at least talk to me? It's been months. Months and not a word," Cactus said between gasps. "Do I not deserve at least a word? Something?"
I slowed my pace, my mind so caught up in what we'd survived when many had fallen that I didn't realize how long it had been. I'd eaten, slept, walked and run, then done it all again. The freedom to move had pulsed through me.
I looked around us, and knew that the wandering was coming to an end. We'd nearly reached the Rim, our home in the Redwoods. The power of the earth coursed through all three sets of our veins as we'd traveled. Peta was at my side in her snow leopard form. She loped along with an easy stride, her ears flicking to me as Cactus spoke. The bond between us vibrated with irritation. She understood my silence and had embraced it with me.
Cactus was right, I hadn't spoken to him, yet that decision had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what we'd recently lived through. What my mind was dealing with.
In a matter of a week, I'd been released from my second punishment in an oubliette. Rylee, the Tracker, had freed me from the prison I could not escape on my own. I'd rallied the four elemental families to help fight the demon hordes, and battled said horde side by side with Rylee, her family, and the supernaturals left in the world.
Twenty-five years ago, I'd been banished to the desert for helping a Tracker. My father had only seen what I'd done as breaking the rules, not realizing that there was more to stepping outside the parameters of being an elemental. While in the desert, I'd met a second Tracker, and helped her as well. Once more my father punished me, only seeing the letter of the law, and not the spirit. He couldn't see that in breaking the rules, I'd done my best to help save lives. Regardless, Father had seen fit to punish me yet again and had sentenced me once more into an oubliette.
Another six years of my life had pa.s.sed in that darkness, my mind fighting to stay sane in my second spell within an oubliette. I was freed by Rylee as she fought to save the world from a demon horde. Which meant as soon as I was released, I was thrust into a battle for the world, my friends and family at my side. The battle was one we'd barely survived, and a good many of those I'd known and loved hadn't.
To say I was struggling with the company of others was a small understatement.
A scene of the battle crashed over me, as suffocating as an ocean of water holding me below the waves, forcing itself down my throat.
Demons swarmed. Their weapons swept in terrifying arcs toward those at my side. The world was dark with droves of them. One fell, and ten took its place. Supernaturals, elementals, and friends died faster than we could kill the demons.
I'd grasped the Tracker's spirit in my hands while her heart beat its final thump and then watched as, with a Daywalker shaman's help, we brought her back to life, making her something new and more dangerous than she'd been before, if that was possible. It was the only way to save her. A part of me knew she would hate me for it, and I accepted that burden.
We had stopped the demons, but lost so much in the process.
The demons were sucked back into their realm deep within the Veil, finally locked away.
And that was when the elementals began to fight one another like the fools they were. What had driven them to that? My sister, the queen of the Rim, tried to stop them. Tried to be the peacemaker and bring them to see reason. It hadn't worked.
A s.h.i.+ver rolled through me as I tried to blink the vision away. The fear of s.c.r.e.w.i.n.g up once more and the world paying for my failure nipped at me. An old fear, and one I thought I'd given up while I'd rotted in the oubliette.
What the world had barely escaped, without even realizing, was so heavy on my mind that words couldn't encompa.s.s the last few months. Between that and truly believing I was free of my prison, the words would not come, and all I'd been able to do was move and give silence. An homage to what was almost my fate if I'd fallen on the battle field. Silence in death was a lot longer than a twenty-year banishment, or even my years in the oubliette.
But that was Cactus for you; he never really felt the depth of the world around us or the weight of responsibility that lay on our shoulders as elementals. After twenty-five plus years of his own banishment, he hadn't learned a thing. I'd hoped he would gain some insight during his own time away from the world, that he'd grow up at least a little and see outside his own needs and desires.
I shared a glance with Peta. Her ashen coat blended into the clouds around us. The thick tumultuous gray blanket rumbled, again, drawing my attention and making me twitch. Peta's green eyes rolled skyward.
"Lark. Talk to me. Please." Cactus's voice broke. "I . . . did I do something wrong? I feel like I'm missing something. Like you're angry with me. I can't bear it."
I slowed to a stop and looked back at him. His eyes were close to the same shade of green as Peta's: vibrant and full of life and laughter. His dark red hair was mussed from the speed at which we'd traveled, the wind having whipped it into a maelstrom of strands that mimicked a live flame and half his elemental heritage.
I stared hard at him, knowing in that moment in my heart and soul, he was not the one for me. I'd felt that certainty grow over the months of silence. No matter how much I loved him, no matter how much history we shared, we would soon part ways for the final time. I felt it in every bone and fiber of my body. And maybe that was partly why I'd postponed going home, to delay the inevitable.
In that, Peta was right. Cactus would never be able to stand with me in the things I had to face, or the path I had to walk. A tiny piece of my heart broke and I let it go, breathing through the pain and tightness in my chest. My first friend.
My first real love.
But he was . . . not right, not for me. And that truth, ah, it stung as deeply as any wound I'd ever had, perhaps deeper. The part of me that was still the little girl who'd loved him so fiercely didn't want to let him go.
But the woman I'd become knew better.
"Talk to me, Lark." He whispered my name as he stepped close, and his hands closed on mine, the closest I'd let him get to me since the battle. The heat of his skin warmed my fingers, stealing my resistance to his charm. I made myself pull away. "Let me help you, please. I gave you room when you needed it, followed you all over this continent without questioning why you ran without thought."
We stared at each other. How could he not understand my silence? How could he be so blind to what had happened? He'd been there at the battle; surely he'd seen the price we paid to defeat Orion and his demon army. Did he feel nothing for those we'd lost, for the things we'd seen and done to save the world?
His eyes were full of sorrow, but not for anyone else. The worry was for his own desires, his own needs. I took a breath and broke my silence, my voice hitching on some of the words from lack of use.
"There were more deaths in the elemental world and the supernatural world . . . facing Orion and his demon horde . . . than we have ever seen. Their deaths mean that you and I and Peta have survived. Can I not honor them the way I see fit? To acknowledge that without them, my silence would be eternal?"
His eyes dropped along with his shoulders. He ran a hand over his head and scrubbed at his hair, messing it further. "I'm a selfish a.s.s."
"Yes, that is true. Nice that you can finally acknowledge it." I turned and walked away, but not before his head snapped up, his eyes flas.h.i.+ng with irritation.
Peta sneezed, s.h.i.+fted, and leapt for my arms. I caught her and she placed herself on my shoulder, balancing easily as I strode forward. "Apparently that wasn't the response he hoped for."
Apparently. I nodded, but reined in my words. Silence for the dead . . . I didn't say what I had only to shut Cactus up. Those who had fought at our sides and fallen, their deaths were all around me. The faces of those we'd known and depended on, friends, allies, and brilliant fighters. Dead. Lost to the other side of the Veil.
Ashes to ashes.
Ash. His name tightened around me like a serpent coiling its body, constricting every breath I took until I was forced to slow my feet. That was the other reason I'd run. I'd thought he'd find me. I thought Ash would seek me out but he hadn't. I'd seen nothing of him as I'd silently crossed the continent and the fear in me had grown. Ash would never have left me. Peta dug her thin claws into my s.h.i.+rt until their tips brushed my shoulder. "What is it? There is a pain in you I have felt only when we are separated. A loss so deep, it can only be of someone your heart rightly belongs to. But your family survived the battle. What is it?"
A rumble across the sky drew my attention and whatever I might have said stalled in my throat.
Clouds formed in deep-gray tumbling ma.s.ses that rolled over one another toward us. Distracted, I didn't answer her right away. Or maybe I wasn't ready to say his name out loud.
"Yes, Bella and the others survived. But . . ." I kept my eyes glued to the sky, looking for even the slightest twitch of lightning deliberately not answering the first part of her question.
I didn't have to.
"You mean Ash, don't you?" she said softly. It hadn't gotten past either of us that he was "put away" somewhere while still under my father's rule. Not an oubliette, but closer to a banishment. From what Peta told me, he snuck back to the edge of the Rim every few months to soak in our home and recharge. Without doing that, he'd have gone insane in a few short years.
My conversation after the battle with Blossom, a fellow Ender from the Rim, had left me shaken.
Ash had not come back for over a year; even though my sister Bella, the new queen of the Rim, lifted the banishment on him, he'd not returned.
Cactus drew up beside me, his eyes going skyward.
"You think we have trouble?"
Peta snorted. "Please, Lark is nothing but trouble. There is only one person who outstrips her in that, and she's no longer an issue."
Rylee. Tracker and savior of the world was an even bigger magnet than me when it came to chaos and strife. Seeing as we had common blood in the power of Spirit, it shouldn't have been a surprise. But Peta was right: Rylee was no longer an issue, seeing as how we'd stripped her of the very thing that made her that magnet. Which meant I was now number one in the world when it came to trouble making.
"Lark, we will be at the Rim soon. We will be able to rest, eat, heal. And we can talk about this, about what we're going to do now that you don't have to save the world. You can have a life now, a family if you want, a home you aren't always trying to protect." Cactus grinned as he rubbed a hand up and down his own arm several times.
Still I couldn't seem to find the words to speak to him.
At least not the words he wanted from me. I strode ahead, knowing that until I made it clear we were done as anything but friends, he would follow me.
"He will get over you. But you have to let him go. You have to make him see you will not change your mind." Peta pressed the side of her face against my cheek, rubbing gently.
She was right, and it was time I cut him loose. Told him to go his own way, find his own life and his own love, and forget about me and any foolish dreams he had of making a relations.h.i.+p work between us.
There would be no home for me, not like he meant. I would return to the Rim, always. But my feet no longer needed the feel of the forest under them. Not the way the other Terralings did. With Spirit running through my veins, the world was open to me. I was not bound to one place as the other elementals were.
I drew in the breath to say the words that would send Cactus away. Hard words that made me pause as they rested on the tip of my tongue.
A crack of lightning over our heads lit up the air with electricity, and the treetops seemed to shudder in fear. My hair rose, floating on the breeze around my face, and I immediately tapped into the earth, grounding me solidly.
Power flooded me, pus.h.i.+ng away thoughts of Cactus. I sank my feet into the soil, and held myself steady. There was no way some errant Sylph was going to rip me from the ground and bat me around like a kitty toy.
Another crack of lightning followed by a boom of thunder kept me where I was, hanging onto the earth, prepping myself for a fight. But no Sylph appeared.
"Perhaps we should take shelter," Cactus said over the rising wind. He had no idea I'd even tapped into the earth. That was a gift only I had: the ability to see when other elementals were about to use their power.
Slowly I let go of the power beneath my feet. It probably said something that I immediately thought the storm was elemental-made, and designed to kick my a.s.s, when in fact, it was nothing more than a bad storm.
Clouds rolled as though they boiled, and the lightning picked up speed along with the thunder. Each boom shook my body, echoing inside my chest like a mighty drum. The smell of ozone filled the air, teasing my nose with its acrid scent.
Cactus trotted ahead of me, straight for a driveway that wound through the trees, stopping when he waved at a human's cabin sitting on the edge of a ravine, facing west, the direction the storm rolled from.
I say cabin, but the place was closer to a mansion. Two stories, the entire front of the house was windows and a large deck wrapped around the whole thing. I followed, slowly, while the wind whipped around me, tugging at my clothes and limbs. The gale came sharply, the wind smacked and pulled me sideways.
The windows of the house blinked like oversized eyes as they caught the shadows and light of the clouds rolling by, malignant and evil, the deck like a strange wooden mouth waiting to snare me when I stepped onto it.
The past haunts you. You know that. The voice was my own, no other. But of a saner me, a kinder me. The girl I'd left behind when I'd stepped out of the oubliette the first time. A girl I wasn't sure even existed, it had been so long since I'd heard her voice. Certainly not after my second round in the oubliette. Punishment for helping Rylee save a child from a shadow walker. I shook my head. The world was far from fair. I knew that.
But just once, I'd like it to swing in my favor.
Peta leapt from my shoulder and s.h.i.+fted into her snow leopard form. Hurrying ahead of me, she was on the steps of the porch before she paused and looked back.
"I'm not going in there." I angled toward the s.p.a.ce under the large deck. Cactus laughed and I ignored him. The very thought of stuffing myself into a man-made house sent my heart rate skyrocketing like a hummingbird's.
The s.p.a.ce between the bottom of the deck and earth was about three feet high. Big enough for me to slip in and find a pillar of wood to put my back against. I ducked under, wiping away the cobwebs that brushed across my face, and the smell of small animals that had used the s.p.a.ce as a shelter. I settled down, sinking my feet and a.s.s into the loose dirt as an anchor in case the wind managed to tug on me.
The Elemental: Rootbound Part 1
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The Elemental: Rootbound Part 1 summary
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