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Ertha was satisfied enough with Winslet and Khan and so she left them to their mission. It was time for her to return to Messinia and observe whatever Jael was up to and his elemental body guards. She was also very intrigued by Roland Sabo. He was an odd character and something about him made her pause. Not just because of his looks, but something about his aura was different. Before she returned, however, she needed to visit her personal hideout and do some reflecting.
She had used up much of her strength and energy moving in and out of the ethereal to get to Hadron Khan's domain. She had enough strength to merge with mother Erath and pass through her rocky skin to get to that private place in short time, hours rather than days.
She arrived in the south western region of Tirnerthol called the Dolminian Protectorate. Though being in contact with Erath's rocky elements could be rejuvenating, changing from flesh and bone to rock and mineral, then traveling over a long period of time was truly draining and exhausting.
The Wizard Spring academy was located in the Dolminian Protectorate and the region itself was once a sovereign nation of her own people nearly a millennium ago. Now it was under the protection and administration of the Kingdom of Neuwaullen.
Ertha arrived in a forest glade bordered on three sides with trees and the fourth side by a sheer cliff that dropped a thousand feet to a rocky shelf. It offered a beautiful view of the Aegirhjem Ocean and a view of the mouth of the Red River as it emptied into the ocean. It is so named because of all the red sand and rock it carries from the Redstone Mountains.
The only structure here is a large raised patio. Four decorative columns held up a roof of clay tiles with everything in Neuwaullen's ancient decorative style. A style simply known as the 'style of the ancient east'.
Ertha stepped up onto the patio and walked to a bench that lined one side. She opened up a section of seating and took out some clothes stashed there. Stripping out of her travel outfit she put on clothing that were specific to her position as the Elemental Emissary of Erath or Mistress of the Rock.
While all the elements are considered of equal standing, the Mistress of the Rock has a special connection to the mother world that the other elementals don't have. Ertha can speak or communicate with the 'soul' of Erath itself.
Dressed anew, but still barefoot, Ertha walked to the center of the large and roomy patio. She stood still and centered herself. She began her warm up, that always focused her thinking, by breathing in deep and exhaling, and stretching and flexing. After a few minutes of this she stood still, closed her eyes and listened to her surroundings.
She listened to the sea, the wind, the birds, the murmur of Erath herself from the flow of magma that ran deep beneath the surface and oozed slowly from an underwater cone over a hundred miles from here. She could hear the insects and tiny animals that scurried about their business oblivious that their fate was tied to her. She loved this place. It was connected to all the elements and spoke to her and aided her when she needed to focus her thoughts.
She stood in the late afternoon light facing the sea. Ancient gongs of brass were on either side of the patio's two stepped entrances, but had not made a sound from a humanoid hand for centuries. The wind had calmed and her dark shoulder length hair hung still. Her muscles ripped and flexed in anticipation of the workout to come. She took a moment to tie up her hair then broke into a martial exercise that she had been doing since she was a soldier of the Dolmen's over eight hundred years ago.
It was a routine now and it allowed her mind to expand and be free to consider her past, all the recent events and possibilities of what were ahead.
She thought of her time as a young girl. Neuwaullen had only existed for maybe fifty years. One day, fifty years before Ertha's eighteenth birthday, a massive fleet of different looking people arrived on the west coast of Tirnerthol. The west of the continent was mostly wilderness at the time, with Dolmen being the only civilization there. The small land of Dolmen was home to a community of people dedicated to keeping the balance of nature.
The people from the sea called themselves the Neuw and said their archipelago nation had been destroyed in volcanic upheaval. They had very advanced ships and technologies for the time. Things the people of Tirnerthol had rarely seen other than from the elves or the ancient Nordoks. They had lighter and yellower skin than the Dolmens and slightly slanted eyes. It is thought they were a lost race that were somehow part Nordok and part Elven. But that is merely speculation. They in fact said their origins were from a continent to the east, so when their island nation began to crumble they [acked up and headed back east only to discover Tirnerthol.
Many hundreds of ships had survived and had brought thousands to the coast and over the course of the next half century they spread out over all of what is now Neuwaullen. It wasn't long before they wanted to annex Dolmen to their rule, but Dolmen resisted.
Initially war was not wanted by either side, but the leaders of Neuw would not take no for an answer and eventually sent a 'peacekeeping force' to Dolmen. Ertha joined the war and made a name for herself by age twenty two. By twenty five she was made a general, but it was too late. Over the course of a year, a quarter of the population of Dolmen decided to leave and migrate to the southern continent beyond the Great Rift. Her parents were among those who left.
By the end of the year, those that were left sued for peace. They were able to keep governing themselves, but now they paid taxes to Neuwaullen in return for Neuwaullen's military protection. The irony there being that it took a nation of people and a seven year war to finally subdue a community of people that were a fraction of the larger nation's population.
At a turning point in Ertha's life she went to find the people who had left and she had in fact found a settlement, but it was destroyed and the only traces of her people were a few scattered bones. She found a bracelet her mother used to wear, but no other traces of her family were to be found. It seemed clear that the odd race of gnolls that dominated the west of the southern continent were to blame.
Feeling truly alone, that is when a figure appeared and claimed to be the Mistress of the Flame and set Ertha on the path she now follows. She will never forget her first mentor, though she died in combat almost seven hundred years ago now.
Ertha moved with the grace of wind and fire and swept her limbs like an ocean wave, ending each combination of movements with a stance as solid as rock. Continuing through her routine she returned to thoughts of the present as she considered her next moves against Tabor Jael. Despite their elemental powers, the mistresses were not assassins and it was unlikely anyone could get close enough to Tabor Jael to even attempt to simply kill him. He was a mage and a diviner under the protection of the powerful Divine Lord Asmodeus. Jael was even getting help from the low level tertiary elementals of ice and smoke.
The roles of the Elemental Emissaries was filled with rules of 'hands off' and complex politics. After all these years, Ertha was familiar with all of them and often felt hobbled by them. But they were put into place to protect the emissaries as much as the people of this world. The Watchers observed and doled out punishment accordingly if rules were broken, but they had to enter this universe to do so. Loathe to leave their realm, messengers were usually sent instead, like marshals or bounty hunters. The clever could elude, stop or even dispatch these types if they were truly motivated. Ertha guessed that Ice and Smoke were enjoying protection from Jael or maybe even Asmdodeus himself.
A plan had come to mind that if she could get in good with Roland, then she might have an inside look into the details of Jael's plans. It was risky to get too close and be seen by her former cohorts of Ice and Smoke, but at the same time she'd seen Roland's obvious attraction to her and thought it would be easy to get on his good side. Besides, he was handsome and it had been a long time since she'd indulged in a sexual encounter.
She still had concerns with Hadron Khan and another young female dragon. Those two were wild cards in the thread of fate and changed the rules of a predictable outcome. The idea of pushing for draconic abominations and harnessing their potential power was Ertha's after she discovered a lost tower near the bottom of the Barrier Mountains. This tower was found by Alira many years later by Ertha's design. Ertha even managed to create an encounter between Alira and Hadron Khan to get things started. All this fell within the rules of the Emissaries, but rode a fine line, so Ertha saw no reason to present this idea to the Watchers and as yet, no Marshal or Hunter has come for her.
Ertha mourned the loss and must carry around the burden of the bloodshed caused by the union of Khan and Alira, but in her mind it is for a cause bigger than even herself and she's been carrying such burdens with her now that are centuries old. That is why the Mistress of the Rock must be strong and is allowed to speak to the mother world. Only a mother will listen with heart and soul to one's tales of woe and only she can wipe away the tears and give the encouragement to continue.
Ertha finished her workout, ending in the rest position that she started in. She shook her head once, letting loose her hair, a thin sheen of sweat covering her body. Her chest rose and fell slow and steady as she inhaled Mother Erath's breath of life.
At that moment a little bird arrived and flitting in front of her gave a message that things were stirring in Messinia. It was time for Ertha to return and see who Roland Sabo really is.
Thanks for your time. This image ended up in the 3DArt Direct interview as well as last minute. The interview helped to inspire me back in to the story. I have another in the works shortly, but I will have to shelve it for a short bit as I try to concentrate on finishing a story I want to publish via e-book.
Comments and constructive criticism is welcome.