Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(3)

Written By: James Maxwell



Seeing movement close by, Chloe watched three scurrying figures descending the steps leading from the villa. She recognized the elderly household servants and was relieved all three were unharmed, but when she called and waved, try as she might, she couldn’t get their attention.

She was going to have to descend the steps herself and find some strong men to come back to the villa to help. Her father was the first consul, and eventually she would find some soldiers who knew her and would come to her aid.

But the journey would take time, and there was no guarantee she would be able to find the help she needed. She didn’t want to leave Sophia for so long. Even without another tremor, the rubble could shift. Chloe also didn’t know the extent of her sister’s injuries. Sophia needed help urgently.

Chloe closed her eyes and muttered a swift prayer to Edra, the protector of children. The gods were angry with Phalesia, that much was evident from the shaking of the world, but surely the goddess would spare an innocent?

She opened her eyes as she heard an improbable sound: a snapping and gusting, like wind in a sail. Though the sea breeze came from ahead, Chloe felt a buffeting wind on her back. She realized it was the movement of gigantic wings.

Her eyes widened as the faint shadow cast by her body changed: something huge was flying above and behind her.

Chloe whirled.





2


A strange mist cleared, revealing a man standing on the terrace a dozen paces away, where before the paved space had been empty. He wore trousers and a short tunic of soft deerskin over a frame that was tall and whipcord lean, with skin so pale it was nearly translucent. A narrow face displayed thinly arched eyebrows, a sharp chin, and a crescent-shaped scar on his left cheek. His eyes appeared dark in the low light, but Chloe knew they were brown flecked with gold, and that looking into their depths made her feel like a young child beside something ancient. Like all of his kind, he had silver hair, worn in his case to his shoulders.

‘Zachary,’ Chloe whispered.

The eldran must have left his home soon after the first thunder to have arrived so quickly.

‘Chloe,’ Zachary said with gravity. ‘I came to see if your father needs me.’

‘Please . . . Sophia is trapped. You must help.’

‘Show me.’

Chloe grabbed his arm and rushed into the villa’s interior once more, dragging him through the intact reception and leading him to the area where the roof had fallen in. When she reached the debris at the doorway to her sister’s chamber she stopped.

‘Sophia?’ she called. ‘Zachary is here! He’s going to help!’

Barefooted, Zachary stepped lightly over the rubble and Chloe heard him speak with Sophia in low, soothing tones. He turned back to her.

‘You can help her, can’t you?’ Chloe wrung her hands.

The eldran nodded. ‘I can. But you know I will have to change.’ He glanced up at the open sky where the ceiling once was and then turned to Chloe. ‘You should go.’

Chloe drew in a deep breath before she finally nodded and retreated to the reception room. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she waited, her gaze fixed firmly on the hallway. The beam would have been heavy for four men to lift. She had to trust in him.

She could now only listen and imagine. Gray smoke suddenly poured out of the corridor. Zachary groaned, and as he did his voice became deeper. The groan became a rumble and then a gasping roar. Chloe heard moving blocks of stone and wished she could help, but knew she would only get in the way.

Still unable to help herself, as the mist cleared she moved forward to peek into the stone-walled passage. She caught a glimpse of a head, ugly and monstrous, with ears the size of soup bowls and a crescent scar on its left cheek. She saw muscled arms like tree trunks carrying a big stone as if it weighed nothing at all and tossing it to the side. Then the head ducked down once more and she heard more moving rubble.

Wishing she could enter further and see what was happening but knowing she should wait, Chloe tried to envision each sound. She fought her panic as she wondered if Sophia was badly injured.

There was silence for a time and she held her breath as she waited. She started to walk forward, scanning the corridor, peering through the dust. Her chest rose and fell as she approached the crumbled section and the doorway to Sophia’s bedchamber.

Then Zachary appeared.

He had returned to his normal form, and he held Sophia in his arms. His eyes were wild and he was panting. When Chloe saw that her sister was awake and alert, bed linen wrapped around her body, she fought a sob of relief.

‘Outside,’ Chloe said. ‘To the terrace. It’s too dangerous in here.’

Soon they were in the fresh open air and Zachary was laying Sophia down on the stone, standing back while Chloe checked her sister, astounded to find she’d escaped with just cuts and grazes. Even so, Chloe had been instructed at the Temple of Aeris in the mysteries of healing. She wasn’t satisfied until she’d checked every joint and her sister had recited the bedtime prayer three times.

‘I must go and see if I can be of use elsewhere in the city,’ Zachary suddenly spoke.

Chloe glanced up at him. ‘What of your people?’

‘It is your buildings of stone that are a danger, and we have none.’

‘Zachary . . . If you must change again, do not forget who you are.’

Zachary nodded. He shook his head from side to side as clarity returned to his unfocused eyes.

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