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Magic chased them like hounds on a blood trail, and Leda used every trick in her arsenal to keep it at bay. She was losing.
The earth tried to swallow them whole. Mulch and leaf litter quivered under the churn of rock and dirt. Ghost, their sure-footed gelding, stumbled over the clods of loam that sprang up like angry ants on a carcass.
"Tremors." Grey slid off Ghost in one fluid motion, then helped Leda down. They couldn't risk their only means of transportation on such treacherous ground.
Leda walked with her head down, studying the restless earth as it grumbled to the surface. "It doesn't feel like an earthquake." She stopped in midstride, cold dread snaking across her skin. Gods help them. It was much worse than that.
Icy winds strafed her body, and her breath fogged with each exhale. Clods of stone and dirt shuddered to life. This was no work of nature.
Grey caught her lagging. "Keep moving, Leda!"
They had journeyed for weeks, gathering what supplies they could and selling everything they didn't need.
The fire lord Senosai had threatened to hunt them to the ends of the earth and he had kept his word. Nowhere did they find respite. His stranglehold was such that even strangers skulked away if they noticed the crest of an Elemental on Leda's cloakan Elemental who kept company with a plainfolk.
They were fugitives and all but friendless. The only place left to hide was in the past.
On a hilltop torn asunder, midway down a treacherous cliff, sat the threshold, a one-way portal to a point somewhere before the apocalypse, before the world knew magic. It was the only place Senosai couldn't follow. The portal could only be used once, and Senosai had used up his chance by escaping to her timeline.
Whether Senosai knew what she and Grey were planning, she couldn't say. All Leda knew was that he was closing in, and he had called upon all the Elemental Houses to hunt her down and bring her back to him.
She'd kill herself before that happened.
Senosai's mad dream to create a fifth Elemental, a creature who could read thought, consumed him. Why he thought Leda could produce such an unnatural child defied reasoning. She controlled fire, but her skill at reading thought was limited. Her gift allowed her to read auras only, the colored shrouds released by strong emotions.
But she didn't run to save her life. She ran to save Grey's. He had crossed Senosai once too often. If he was ever caught, Senosai would curse him with a living death.
She stole a glance his way and begged the gods to forgive her for putting him in danger. Not that she could have stopped the big savage from her journey. Grey would have moved heaven and earth for her. He was determined to protect her.
Whoever heard of a plainfolk protecting an Elemental? But she didn't protest too much. There was comfort in his muscular arms and the soft quirk of his smile. His long dark hair framed a square jaw, but his mischievous eyes held back his thoughtsat least until they were alone.
She loved him for everything he was and everything he wasn't. If only she could have saved him from her fate.
The air quivered, a shiver so subtle she almost missed it.
There. She felt it again. The telltale vibrations of making. This was no natural tremor. Senosai's armies had found them.