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       ebook: kindle ≈ kindle uk kindle au kindle ca

       Wash is part one of the Elementals.

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WASH

For twenty-three years, a powerful water elemental has been training on the wondrous planet of Echyion.

Then Victoria Undine is released . . .

Only to discover her mother and stepfather were brutally murdered the day before her discharge. When Victoria and her little sister, Maybelle, are kidnapped, Victoria realises the outside world is not as free as she imagined. Though luxurious, her rooms in the facility were a cage as is their new accommodation on Oshiro. As a prisoner, Victoria is forced to create water for the underground city. The only thing keeping her awesome power in check is the threat from Oshiro’s leaders toward her little sister.

Captain of the spaceship Liberty, Marcus Collins, is determined to save his desert planet, Qelia. He flies to Oshiro, hunting the water technology that made one of the hottest planets in the system flood. When Victoria stumbles into a bar with a dying child in her arms, he doesn’t believe or comprehend she’s the answer to his dreams.

But their trade has the potential to change the universe . . .

 

This story unfolds over four books. Each book has a different main character.



≈≈≈

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Hydration ends in four hours and counting . . .

A heat wave grips Oshiro Country the day after I flooded her largest city. The blue energy ripples across my knuckles, and water rehydrates my cells, because even in the desert, I can never die from thirst.

The boy in open wagon ahead looks at me for the third time in two minutes. One wrong word about what he’s seen and my sister might end up back in jail.

I try to shake away the energy, gripping the wagon’s reins with trembling hands. I slide a mask of pleasantry over my face and beam at the boy, trying to appear as if I am out for a stroll, rather than in a wagon train with Old Order followers, using my water gift to help my sister survive.

He squirms on the seat and then tugs at the chambray sleeve of the man seated beside him. In response, the man thumbs up his black hat, bends to listen, then ruffles the boy’s hair—and then peers over his right shoulder to stare. It isn’t the first time men in this wagon train have looked me over. His gaze lifts to my upswept hair, roves lower to my white lace blouse and then sweeps back up again to meet my eyes. Eventually his gaze drifts to my sister, but at the sight of the water flask in her hands, his grin dies.

Sweat beads my upper lip. Why had I been so hasty in refilling her canister? The blue is there; it’s wrong to never use it on anyone but myself.

“Tori, they’re staring,” Maybelle whispers, her voice sounding hoarse. She coughs, a dry, hacking bark and doubles over, helpless. Finally, she lifts the flask, drinking greedily, and then she swipes her neck on her dusty cap sleeve. Sweat drips down her arms, pooling inside her elbows.

I glance at the man and his jaw drops. A glazed look invades his eyes. He squeezes them shut, then opens them again to stare at her flask. May has water when no one else has drunk in days. He swings back around to face the front, but by the tight set of his shoulders that won’t be the last of it. His fingers come up and touch the long rifle across his lap.

“Sweet universe.” I tremble, leaning down to her ear. “May . . .”

“What?” she whispers.

“Offer it to them. Let them drink from your canister. They have guns. All of them have guns.” The Old Order followers are too thirsty. And if anyone decides to shoot May when my back is turned, none of them will live through the day. I might kill the entire wagon train, not to mention what I can do to the planet itself.

I trained as a water healer, but in every town I move into, people die.

“Greed,” Nana had told me. “Count on it like the sun rising. But what is given in one hand can also be taken away.”

How right she was. I look at the flame tattoo on my shoulder, slightly visible through my lacy sleeve. By Echyion, how much I miss her. Two months, that’s all May and I had with our grandmother.

After Nana died, we were kidnapped by mercenaries and sold to the Oshiro Country government. Food and a roof over our heads were vastly preferable to belonging to mercenaries on an outlier planet. That was . . . until the government decided to turn my gift into a weapon to make other countries suffer. When I chose not to comply, they subjected Maybelle to torture.

“But it’s empty,” May complains, handing me the container. She heaves her frail body against the side of the wagon, her gaze on the expanse of barren land. Sunlight glints off her blonde hair, the hot wind flipping strands over her bony shoulders.

Gusts scour the desert terrain of Oshiro Country, sweeping dirt onto the wagon’s smaller wheels and flinging particles across our skirts. Grime coats every part of my body and the borrowed, threadbare walking dress.

Our escape from Oshiro began with the deputy begging me to stop the rising floodwaters in return for our freedom–and then ended with a trip across town in insane heat, trying to beat the inland tsunami. We caught a wagon, rescued two horses from the swollen river, and then we met up with the Old Order followers at the outskirts of town. The terrain changed from a few sparse trees to barren wasteland. I wore a white hospital gown, basic slippers, and a location tag on my wrist. Those feeble plastic trackers cannot stand the kind water pressure I can produce.

Suspicion had lined their faces. They ran from soldiers invading their replenished farm lands; we ran from townspeople who wanted Undine blood.

Another hacking cough from Maybelle makes me tilt my head to scan her body.

My little sister’s skin shimmers. Layer one and skin dissolves; layer two, and I see past her bones, capillaries, and veins, deeper into cells that were once vibrantly thick-walled and content. The area outside her cells undulates with a gentle push of water rehydrating vital organs.

Hydration ends in three hours and fifty minutes.

Memories flood in of my old master leaning over complex screens and tanks, testing my accuracy upon living organisms and then announcing in a very dry, calculating voice the assessors were coming to the facility to test my skills again. At least after May’s first drink the burn under my skin eases to a slight prickle.

A shout reverberates in the air, and I’m thrust out of x-ray sight. But the image of May’s physical body collapses, turning x-ray again.

Finally, her real appearance holds. Her lips moisten, transforming from a cracked white to rosy pink, but her skin doesn’t regain its former elasticity. She stares at me with sunken eyes. Her rapid, deep breathing is a countdown to shock, a weak pulse, and then a coma.

She tucks her legs beneath her thighs, her tiny soles ringed with dirt and sunburn, but she keeps her gaze on the tumbleweeds in the distance. “I wish Mum and Dad were here. Why did Nana have to die so fast?”

My mouth is slow to work, and I rub my forehead. I can’t tell May it’s because mercenaries wanted to sell me, that our mother and step-father dying is all my fault. “You know she said every night that if she ever left us, she had things to do in Heaven.” My heart squeezes. “Pull your skirt over your feet, Maybelle. They’re burning.”

“What’s that man going to do?” she whispers. “The one who saw me drink?”

“Hopefully nothing,” I murmur. “The next time the blue comes, I’ll refill the canister and leave it where he can see.”

“My stomach hurts.”

“I know you’ve said no the last couple of days, but we can trade my water.” I cast her a side glance, noticing her small hand over her belly. “I can trade the others for something to eat.”

“No, I don’t want food.”

Her words make the bottom drop out of my world. My training sometimes consisted of discovering how long human beings can last without air, water, and food.

The few packets of pumpkin seeds I’d snatched from the sheriff’s office had lasted two days. I’ve been empty for four, Maybelle for two. Agony eats at my gut once or twice a day, in paroxysms so strong I can’t sit straight. Then the pain magically disappears, and my body adjusts to nothing. If Maybelle doesn’t want food, then her body is eating at itself, and if we don’t reach a settlement soon, those hunger pangs will see her dead.

A groan forces my eyes up; the boy’s gaze has settled on Maybelle again. He licks his lips, and as his neck wilts like a dying flower, a hank of hair falls over his burnt forehead.

His x-ray body kicks into my sight. His brain, two hemispheres, heart, lungs, kidneys. I gasp at the state of his internals. Organ failure in twenty-four hours.

“He’s dying.” My nostrils flare, and I mindlessly thrust my hand toward him, but I can’t free it. Sweet universe, when did May grab my fingers? I can’t live with a child on my conscience. I tremble with the force of my frustration. “May,” I growl. “Let go. He’s dying.”

Tears drip onto my cheeks, chest heaving in and out, sick from the heat. With a yank, I tear free of her grasp. My right hand lifts up, fingers spread toward him, ready to pulse water into his system. Repair the damage. Save his life. Save us all.

“No, sis,” May says, her words holding despair. “You can’t. They’ll tell,” she whispers into the desert air, still not looking at me. “You need to wait.”

“I can tell them, show them how . . .”

“That’s never worked,” May rasps as though talking is painful. “They never stay quiet. They trade you for money. And when they take us, they’ll hurt me again. Wait until no one can see.”

Tears spill to my cheeks, and I look down at my clenched fists, feel the sharp prick of nails burrowing into my palms, banking the power. The blue is too bright, too noticeable. Not many understand, and they react out of fear. My assistance can only lead to more deaths. “When I knew you were being tortured, I couldn’t control . . . May, I didn’t mean to flood them.”

“I know.” Her tiny hand touches my leg. “They don’t.”

 

≈≈≈

 

I nudge Maybelle’s shoulder. “Wake up, bub. We’ve stopped.”

“Why?” she murmurs, rubbing her eyes and then nestling further into a crook where the side of the wagon joins the seat. Damp curls cling to her bright red cheeks. “Are we there yet?”

“No, I’m not sure what’s going on. Looks like something else.” I shake her shoulder with care, although an itch spikes at my every nerve. “Wake up. I won’t leave you here by yourself. One of the walking men says we should have reached a town by now. We might have been misdirected.” I quail at the idea of the government knowing our every step, leading us into a trap. I can’t put it past them to kill the vegetation so I have to use my gift to live.

The horses pant and neigh, lifting their heads as sweat pours from their necks. I rub my hands with hard jerks against the sick sensation creeping along my skin.

“Mis-directed?” Her tongue stumbles over the word. “What’s going on?” She finally notices my distress. “Your skin itches again?” Worry clouds her voice. “It’s not . . . him, is it?”

The boy still watches me, and I scan his body in mere seconds. “No, he has a little while longer.” Emphasis on the little. “It’s safer if we stick together. I want to see.” I crane my neck to look past the wagons lined up and stop myself from rubbing my arms.

Maybelle mutters again, nods. I jump down, and a cloud of dust whirls around my boots. I stride to her side of the wagon and then sweep her into my arms. Evaporated sweat tacks the old, pink dress to her tiny back. Her nape stinks of bitter sweat and dirt, but I carry her light body toward the congregation forming at the head of the wagon train.

At least ten men sit astride their horses, scouts riding in front to ensure the safety of the wagons. Their chambray shirts reek, the colour dark blue as though they’d gone swimming. The matrix of bodies tingle at my awareness, and I close my eyes, finding all the empty spaces. A lower density–areas with less vibration and zero water. Bursts of power whip against my skin, tendrils of pain begging for relief. My vision skids out of proportion and instantly x-rays.

Fifty people’s internal organs jump into focus. I gaze at all the other hearts beating rapidly around mine. Too rapidly. Black, grey, white, monochrome, and then translucent. Ba-boom, ba-boom. Lungs breathing in shallowly. Liver, spleen, and kidneys struggling. Tongues glued to the roofs of mouths, lips sticky while sweat beads in a constant roll down their foreheads as their otherwise healthy bodies die from thirst.

But one is sicker than most.

I see you.

I slip around the group, nearing the source until my skin stings. I groan in pain, walking to the rear of a covered wagon and then set May on the ground. “Keep watch.”

She nods, hanging onto the wagon, sneaking glances around the side. “No one’s there,” she whispers.

I flip up the canvas, and my teeth clench as I grasp the ankle nearest the opening. I press my fingers against the wrinkled skin. Energy bursts through my system, too long suppressed. Yes. Control is paramount, I need to carefully filter in how much water his body can deal with because too much and he will drown. From the narrow feel of his bone and the looseness of his skin, it’s one of the elders. His x-ray appears as bones and white smudges to me until I see the cool blue snaking up his ankle, leg–and, finally, seeping into his torso.

A woman’s harsh cries jolts me back to reality, and my sight returns to normal. I breathe out, startled to find the fierce itch doesn’t fade from my skin. Which means one thing. Death.

From my earlier look fifty percent of the wagon train will be gone in the next day and a half. Wonderful. Astrakhan, my old master’s voice echoes in my mind. Again, your assessment is accurate.

Sometimes I don’t like being right. The memory of sterile rooms and lush habitats contrast acutely to my surroundings.

I gather up Maybelle again, trying to get to whoever is next before someone spots me.

The wagon master directs the horses to one side of the wagon train, striding to an old man slumped across the front seat of a rickety, old wagon. His body flows over the edge, arms limp and stretched out. Two men climb into the wagon, heft up the body, while other men wait on the ground to receive him.

I swallow and flick my glance to the side, trying to hold back tears. “I didn’t make it.”

Why do the Old Order followers refuse to use hovercrafts for transport? We might have reached a safe settlement by now, and the knowledge I must be grateful for the clothes they have given us is no panacea to the helplessness and guilt gripping me.

“Heatstroke,” someone nearby whispers. “Everyone thought he slept.”

No . . . not everyone. There were two. Two.

“Why are you shaking? What’s wrong?” Maybelle asks.

My heart thunders, and I push against the crown of May’s head, settling her face back into my neck. I don’t want her to see a dead man, his blistered face, dishevelled hair, and dirt-smothered clothes.

She still can’t sleep at night, waking with a wild shriek, babbling about men with sharp knives and sharper faces who want to make her bleed. Enclosed spaces make her scream hence the open wagon.

The hopelessness of it all threatens to crush the little faith left within me.

“Why are you crying?” she asks.

“Don’t look, May.” My voice wobbles. I can’t save them all. Nana, I pray, this is all my fault. Please watch over us.

Someone produces a shovel and thrusts it into the topsoil, right in the middle of the path. More men join in on the task, making quick work. They lower the body into the shallow grave and cover him with dirt. A hot box. Someone lines the grave with stones, though they trudge in slow movements due to the heat.

I hiccup and stagger back to our wagon, panting. The man with the rifle who rode ahead of us steps into my path, and the stench of his sweating body wrinkles my nose. I stop, suck in a shallow breath and meet his eyes. Brown, coffee bean coloured eyes, greet mine, holding keen knowledge and determination. The sun glints off his hair, turning the strands a light strawberry colour as if it can’t decide between red and blond.

He lifts the gun and opens his mouth to speak, but when another man shouts, he hesitates and lowers the rifle.

I exhale a low breath of relief.

Maybelle lifts her head, staring at him.

Another call from the men and he blinks, stepping aside. The legends of those who participate in the wagon train note they lay their dead to rest in their path immediately upon death. It is a sacred time where all men must participate. If others venture the same way, the path will be blessed. The person’s spirit ensures safe passage. For a moment, I wonder how many graves our horses trample over on this planet.

“More water,” Maybelle whispers so softly her warm breath sounds like the hum of a small bird. I can’t tell if it’s her tears or sweat pooling against my neck. “My tummy hurts.” She sounds bewildered.

Sweat bursts from my back, like tiny spiders dancing across my skin. A hundred little legs trickling along my spine and legs. I make it to the carriage and slump against the front, heaving her into the seat. Finally, I look around for suspicious eyes, especially the boy’s. Nothing. Good.

Heart racing, I cup her cheek with one hand and hold the canister with the other. I will tend to her mouth, flush the cells in her face and then give the flask to the man. Some instinct razes up along the base of my neck until my hair stands on end. I swallow dryly, mouth sticky and then look at the boy who stops a short distance away, staring at us intently.

His body knows, that’s all. Astrakhan tested the ability for sentient beings to scout for a water source. The itch crowds my skin. I grimace, leaning into my sister to kiss her cheek. “Sorry.” Regret fills the word. “I can’t right here, bub. If they see the blue . . . ” I whisper against her ear. “You’re right. Remember what happened last time. The time before that . . . ” I rest my forehead against hers, and our sweaty noses slip against each other.

Tears leak helplessly down my cheeks.

She shoves her thumb into her quivering mouth with a high keen of distress and sucks the digit like it’s a teat to a cold water bottle. Her knees rise to her chest, and she curls to one side, closing her eyes.

“That boy saw me before. He’s looking now,” I whisper. “His father has a gun. If he shoots, they all could. I don’t want to hurt anymore people. We can’t travel across the desert if they shoot you or our horses.”

Her eyes pop open, and she frowns, her hand slipping around my neck as she nestles her cheek against mine for a kiss.

Too lethargic to answer back, she sinks against me, and I press another kiss to her cheek.

The boy frowns and turns away, heading back to his own wagon ahead of ours.

The wagon train starts again, ambling for the direction of the hills but stops just before nightfall, making a wide circle for safety. I go through the routine of laying out the coarse blankets over the front seat, but an idea comes to me so suddenly I freeze.

Solutions, my master intoned gravely, are everywhere. It is your job as water healer to find them.

The hard rest on my side doesn’t bother me, I prefer it rather than having my sister sleep elsewhere. I need to watch over her. In so many ways, I am her only anchor in this world, and she is mine. The Old Order followers must know this.

I pull Maybelle over to my side. “Complain about sleeping here. Loudly enough so the others hear you. Say your back hurts,” I whisper furiously. “Don’t give up until we’re sleeping on the ground. I have an idea.”

Maybelle stares at me, her large blue-grey eyes blank and confused.

“Go on,” I whisper. “Be loud. Angry. Really angry, May. Let out that anger you have about what they did to you in jail. If you complain about sleeping here, we’ll drink. You’ll save them all.”