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This is the ninth part of my book. I said I wasn't going to upload anymore, but here I am doing it. I wanted Renor to be introduced because a kelpie is pretty cool, I think, and this is the chapter leading up to that.
Edit: The crocodile is no longer in the chapter, and I really wonder why I had it in there in the first place. Say "hello" instead to the Web Weavers.
Edit 2: Except for the Ilitha/Balag scenes, you might want to reread the whole thing. Jezryn comes up with a plan. 2/19/2010
The trees grew tall and close together, their gnarled hands twisting and climbing upward, entwining with each other and stretching deep into the Ewgnu Adnan—loosely translated as the Spider Web Swamp. Roots snaked across the ground, mimicking the reptiles themselves as they climbed over and under one another. For a time, they slipped beneath the surface, quicksand or false ground covering them. Then, they burst back up out of the muck and grime, swamp plants clinging to the glistening, wet bark. Creatures, denizens of the Ewgnu Adnan, slipped from shadow to shadow, never fully revealing themselves as they slunk deeper into the recesses of the dank, foul place.
A dragonfly that could be measured in feet instead of inches flitted above the cloudy, murky water, its wings a blur as it sped along. A bullfrog sat atop a toadstool, its bulbous eyes and bulging throat swelling as the creature tracked a fly. A long, wet tongue snapped out faster than the eye could follow, and another life was extinguished. A few moments later, however, that same bullfrog landed in the jaws of a striking onyx serpent with a crimson belly. The food chain continued on.
Even deeper in the swamp, where sunlight was a thing whispered about in the trees, but never actually seen, were the braver, more dangerous dwellers of the Ewgnu Adnan.
A jaguar gracefully weaved in and out of the trees, his tail waving back and forth like a rudder. His presence remained unknown to many creatures, for silence was his ploy. His muscles rippled beneath his spotted coat, black and gold mingling with the colors of the swamp. The black tips of his ears twitched, and the jaguar abruptly lifted his head when a twig snapped. He stood poised, one massive paw raised in the air, read to spring. Those all-knowing eyes, the piercing gaze of a big cat that creeps into one’s soul, plowed through the darkness, and the hypnotic, dazzling orbs spotted two shade elves stealthily moving through the trees.
The jaguar’s pink, rough tongue curled out, a growl slipping between his vicious teeth, and the great cat licked his lips. However, despite all his power, he did not dare approach. The shade elves were not in his domain; they were victims of another.
There were only two creatures in the entire Ewgnu Adnan that the jaguar feared: a kelpie that lived at the far reaches of the swamp, and the Web Weavers.
The Web Weavers were unnatural to the jaguar. They were something else, not completely a beast like he, but a mixture of man as well. Their silver hair and initial beauty was lost when their bonelike wings were spotted, sounding like sandpaper when they rubbed together. They resembled elves, but little pointed fangs sometimes made people incorrectly label them as vampires. They moved through the trees like monkeys, living high in the canopy like them, but did not use leaves to build their nests. Their houses were round, spun of the webs they themselves created, and they imitated a rain spider’s dwelling with the spherical design.
Yes, the kelpie and the Web Weavers the jaguar feared, and as the two shade elves crept deeper into the swamp, the great cat could only growl in a morbid farewell. His rudder-like tail flicked behind him as he turned, waving rhythmically back and forth as he slunk away. The soft pads of his feet carried him soundlessly across the soft ground, and slowly, the darkness of the swamp swallowed his muscled, sleek body.
The golden eyes blinked once in the pitch blackness, that all-knowing stare, and then he was gone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ilitha Rei’yiss was not at all ashamed of herself in that moment. She was following close behind Balâg, clinging to his hand so tightly she feared it might break, but she did not care. She clutched her bow in the other hand as a security blanket. Every fiber of her body screamed desperately for her to flee, to run back to solid ground and throw her face into the comforting sunlight no matter the pain her eyes would experience. But…the Veldriss had commanded her to do this.
She had succeeded in convincing Balâg to come, saying it was Vanima’s deepest wish and he would be greatly rewarded. The mention of her little lie again had helped a great deal, and now, Ilitha believed it had sealed the contract. Balâg had agreed, and now they were deep in the Ewgnu Adnan, carrying with them the smell of blood. Game they had hunted along the way was sitting in a big pile of meat at the bottom of a sack Balâg held. He was careful to let no part of it touch him, for he wanted the scent to remain in one place.
Being chased and ultimately killed by Web Weavers was not part of the plan.
The plan they intended to follow was to let the smell be carried on the wind to the Web Weavers’ nests. Then, they would dump the bag near where Anariel and Jezryn would be walking by, pointing the vicious monsters directly at the target like a hound after a fox. The trick on their part was to slip away before either the Web Weavers or Anariel and Jezryn spotted them, then actually make it out of the swamp alive.
“So, the blood will excite them, and what food we have is not enough. Therefore, the Web Weavers will go after Anariel and Jezryn to sufficiently feed themselves.” Balâg glanced over his shoulder to Ilitha, wanting to confirm the details.
“Mm-hmm,” the shade elf whimpered, her eyes darting in every possible direction. She was miserable, and the sooner they got this over with the better.
Oh, what we do for power, she thought wryly, and that thought cheered her up slightly. The Veldriss would be pleased.
“Are they here yet?” Balâg asked.
Ilitha pulled out one of the two tiny crystal balls Vanima had given to her before she and Balâg had traveled through a mirror to reach the swamp. She balanced it in the crook of her elbow and waved her free fingers over its surface to avoid letting go of Balâg—she absolutely refused to do such a thing.
Blue smoke curled inside the ball, climbing up the sides until it had filled the entire space. An image slowly appeared, fuzzy at first, but then jumping into crystal clarity; some old wizard humor—crystal ball, crystal clear.
Anariel and Jezryn were clambering through the muck, apparently arguing with each other, but the small device did not produce sound like the larger ones. They were used for spying during times when silence was paramount, instead of the peeping-Tom wizard up in his tower.
“Yes, they are here,” Ilitha replied softly. “Not far from where we are. The Web Weavers will be able to find them if we stop.” She then proceeded to check if her voice had alerted anything that was capable of movement. Once, the shade elf thought she saw yellow eyes with catlike pupils staring at her intensely, but it was just a flash, and she dismissed it as paranoia.
Balâg jogged ahead—after struggling a bit to free himself from Ilitha—and pulled on a glove before reaching into the bag. He wiped his hand on a bloody rabbit inside, then painted the tree with his palm.
Ilitha set down her bow and shrugged off the quiver that held her arrows, running around to a large tree and uttering a short chant Vanima had taught her. The tiny crystal ball lifted from her palms and floated lazily upward of its own accord, settling itself in the nook of a branch.
Vanima wanted to study the events that would unfold; she wanted to know Anariel’s power. Ilitha was her innocent little spy, fulfilling that wish.
Balâg finished his job at about the same time as Ilitha. He carefully removed his glove, then carried the sack of game off into the trees where he threw it as far as he possibly could. The two shade elves waited and listened. Nothing at first, except the constant singing of insects, then…
A single, lonely wail echoed eerily in the trees, drifting out into the darkness.
Ilitha gasped, and she snatched Balâg’s hand before dragging him off, retrieving her bow and arrow along the way. “Let us go!” she said, her amber eyes wide in fear.
Balâg stumbled with the force she used, but it was soon him pulling her along.
A second cry joined the first, and what sounded like the hiss of a snake rushed through the thick canopy of the swamp. It was most definitely not a snake, however.
“Vanima will be pleased?” Balâg asked nervously as they ran. “It is normally death for anyone but her to enter here.”
“Yes,” Ilitha lied. “She will reward you.” No, not you, but me, the shade elf knew.
“Well, I just hope Jezryn meets his end on the fangs of those monsters,” Balâg spat bitterly.
Ilitha stared at his back. They used to be friends, she thought for a split second, but ambition drove the sentiment from her mind. Then again, I used to love you once. Now you are my puppet, Balâg.
Balâg could not see the wicked smile curl Ilitha’s maroon-painted lips as the hunting keen of a Web Weaver ripped the air.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ssa slowly rehinged her jaws, the last of the bullfrog slipping down her throat. She wished she had found another snake to feed on—preferably one of her own kind—but the amphibian had served a nice meal as a second choice.
The red-bellied black snake wrapped her long body securely around a wet, slime-covered tree branch, allowing her head to dangle down. She eyed Ilitha and Balâg as they scrambled back through the swamp to freedom, then glanced at the crystal ball strategically placed for Vanima to spy.
Perfect, she thought.
Ssa considered looking after Jezryn and Anariel, but the cry of a Web Weaver changed her mind. She had no desire to remain where blood-thirsty killers were about to storm through.
Slowly, the bullfrog weighing her down a bit, she uncurled and slithered along the tree branch, following Ilitha and Balâg.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jezryn’s foot slipped off the slime-covered rock and landed with a loud splash. Immediately, the sludge underneath the murky water sucked at his foot and crept half way up his leg before he even had time to pull it out. “Ugh,” he groaned, gingerly setting his foot down again in the driest spot possible.
Anariel, a few feet ahead, sighed and turned around. “Were you not trained in the most rigorous courses set down by the Veldriss since you were seven years old?” she whispered, an irritated expression on her face.
“Yes,” Jezryn retorted defensively, but Anariel crossed her arms and snorted.
“You are making more noise than a mountain giant,” she hissed, still keeping her voice low.
Jezryn scowled at her, then pointedly took another step, his foot not making the slightest sucking sound. “There,” he said sarcastically, but Anariel had already begun walking again, and did not even acknowledge that he had spoken.
The day Anariel and Jezryn had struck up an agreement had marked the last day of a full-blown conversation. In the time that had passed—three entire weeks—she had spoken sparingly, if at all, and the shade elf had wisely kept his distance. After a few days, however, he had realized that she wasn’t even angry with him anymore, just generally annoyed. She seemed to be sad as well, their conversation no doubt bringing memories of her dead husband painfully to her mind. Two days previously had been the first time they had actually exchanged dialogue beyond five words, but even that had only been an explanation—short and to the point—of safety measures to be taken in the swamp.
It was fine with the Jezryn that she didn’t want to talk; he didn’t want to talk to her either. However, his impatience was growing, for he had yet to find the opportune moment he had been waiting for. She was as alert as an owl, apparently forsaking sleep both night and day to keep a careful watch on him. He still had the dagger she had given him, but if he wanted to succeed with the pathetic weapon, he would have to be even more cautious. With the way things were going, he would have to do something to gain her trust for that to become even a remote possibility.
She will find me.
Jezryn game a growling sigh and shoved his dream from his mind. Forget about it, he ordered himself. He shook his head, staring at Anariel’s back, and he gritted his teeth. I will drag you back to Athelion even if I have to make you fall in love with me first!
Jezryn stopped, struck by that idea, then put a hand to his chin as he thought about that idea. “Hmm,” he said. For a second, he allowed himself the fantasy of Anariel snuggling against his neck, delicately pressing her lips against his, and that undeniably beautiful hair engulfing him.
Reality came crashing back when he stepped in another puddle, and his smile disappeared. Seduce that chattering princess? The shade elf almost laughed, then paused. No, that is the mask she wears. I must remember she is more than she seems. Could I really…? He shook his head, but frowned. Without my sword, though… Jezryn’s frown deepened as he considered the idea. She is still annoying, mask or not. He made a face at the thought of kissing up to her, then looked up despairingly at the sky. It had grown increasingly dark the farther they progressed. The shade elf could not tell if it was because of the ever increasing denseness of the tree canopy, or some evil was blotting out the sun. Looking down at the muck and slime underneath his feet, he suspected the latter, for no beast would willingly live in the Ewgnu Adnan unless it were evil.
Perhaps this swamp will give me a few ideas.
Anariel had mentioned the need to see a friend, but Jezryn could not imagine who this friend was, or if it was even a “who.” She had called him Cheval, but that information was about as helpful as a gnat. What was this French language anyway?
He had originally hoped that what they were looking for was near to where they had entered the swamp, but no—as he had suspected—whatever it or he was lived on the other side. The shade elf had suggested that they go around the swamp until they reached the other side, but Anariel had simply replied in the most annoying fashion possible, “That would defeat the purpose of a shortcut.” Thus, they were traveling through the swamp, beginning to end, and Jezryn had a sneaking suspicion that Anariel was getting back at him for the net incident. How he was regretting that now as his eyes darted into every corner of the Ewgnu Adnan, searching for the danger that did lurk around the corner.
Unseen animals hooted out into the darkening swamp as the elves traveled deeper in, accompanied by the hissing of giant serpents, coils hanging loosely about thick, cypress tree limbs and maws opened in anticipation should an unsuspecting victim walk underneath. An eerie mist began to settle around them, clinging like grasping fingers to the moist leaves. It spread out upon the brown, murky water, and Jezryn could not even see his lower body as he sank up to his neck in the muck. He squinted his eyes to see Anariel, and very faintly he saw a stain of red he knew to be her hair piled atop her head in a loose bun, ponytail combination to avoid the sludge. The beating wings of bats issued from somewhere very near his head, and the enraged screams of howler monkeys ripped through the air, echoing out in the seemingly endless expanse of fog. Jezryn jerked away as the touch of wings flitted on his cheek, and he drew his dagger from his belt when the three foot long dragonfly wheeled about. He swatted at it as it dove over his head, a horrible buzzing sound filling his ears, but the shade elf missed and the giant bug disappeared from sight deep into the thick foliage.
“This is where Vanima collects her monsters,” came a voice very near to his ear. Jezryn whirled about, dagger raised high in the air. A delicate hand shot from the mist to catch his arm, and Anariel appeared a few moments later. “They can sense your fear,” she whispered, glancing up into the almost invisible trees as if she expected something to attack then and there.
“I am not afraid, shiskik ilthinian,” Jezryn retorted sourly. It was true, he wasn’t, but he was beginning to understand that the Ewgnu Adnan was forbidden for a good reason. What he wouldn’t give for sunlight and firm ground.
Anariel smirked. “Whatever.”
Still holding his wrist, she pulled him away, stepping carefully and slowly, unable to see her feet, and therefore, unable to see what monsters lurked below the water.
“You can read my mind,” Jezryn hissed. “You know I am not.” When the fiery elf did not answer, he sighed. “What did you mean by ‘they’?” he whispered.
“Surely you have heard of the Web Weavers,” Anariel commented.
Jezryn’s heart froze in his chest. Yes, he had heard of them.
Anariel went into an explanation anyway, and the shade elf suspected she wanted to talk about the details in an attempt to unnerve him. He smiled.
“There are denizens of the swamp who can spin webs, but they are not spiders,” she said quietly. “It is the reason for the swamp’s name. Vanima does not dare send her troops here, because a party of that size would draw attention, and they would be unable to fight the unseen enemy.”
“Yes, she decreed that it was death for anyone to enter the Ewgnu Adnan,” Jezryn told her. “That is why I am uncomfortable. She apparently had good reason.”
Anariel raised an eyebrow and looked back at him. “A law actually made for the wellbeing of others,” she commented. She thought about it for a moment, then turned away with a snort. “No, she just does not want to loose valuable soldiers. She comes to the swamp alone, right?”
Jezryn pressed his lips together, irritated that she had succeeded in disturbing him at least on some level. With that question, he felt the darkness begin to creep in upon them. The very weight of the air seemed to thicken, and he wondered if it was truly harder to breath or if some sentient being were in the air, slowly suffocating him. He felt a hand snap on his shoulder.
“As I have said,” Anariel said softly. “They can sense your fear. The swamp can play tricks on your mind.” She turned away when Jezryn started to protest, then gasped and held up a hand. The shade elf immediately quieted, his soldier instincts transmitting the same warnings Anariel suddenly sensed. They both looked around warily, and the hair on the back of Anariel’s neck slowly stood on end. Something was watching them.
“There is a river that feeds the swamp,” she whispered, and even with his exceptional hearing, Jezryn could barely hear her. “My friend lives there. If we can reach it, the Web Weavers will not dare attack out of fear. He has a large territory.” She moved away, though her eyes never stopped scanning the trees. Jezryn slowly followed her, but he felt his heart sink when she lifted a hand for the second time.
She slowly pointed to a twisted cypress tree rising up out of the water barely ten feet in front of them.
Do not move, Anariel said in Jezryn’s mind.
The shade elf set his jaw in grim readiness as he saw a slender, frail-looking elf—what resembled one at least—crouched on a branch in the cypress tree. Black silk clung to her slender body like a ghostly shroud, floating lightly in the air like a phantom. Blood red lips glinted eerily in the full moon’s beams, accentuated by tiny pointed fangs. A forked tongue curled out of that teasing mouth, running along the smirking lips as the Web Weaver began to anticipate the taste of her victim. Her black wings rustled in eagerness, thin membrane like a spider web connecting the jutting bonelike structures. Her breathing rasped out as her blood began to boil, her heart quickening to an unhealthy rate. A delicate hand that more resembled a claw slowly reached out toward him, beckoning him to come closer, and again that forked tongue ran along the full lips of the Web Weaver.
Jezryn was faintly aware of Anariel slowly lowering herself into the water, disappearing beneath its murky depths, and he knew he should be moving with her. Something, however, was holding him in place. A stronger power was slowly gripping him. Like a siren calling to lonely sailors at sea, a sweet scent engulfed him and pulled him along to the base of the tree.
The Web Weaver hissed in delight, her frail body quivering in excitement and desire. It had been so long since her last meal, the rabbits in that sack a mere morsel. Like a spider, she slowly crawled along the branch toward the water lapping about the trunk of the tree, curving nails digging deep into the bark. The black silk covering her waved gently as she crept down, so inviting and alluring. Whispers sounded in Jezryn’s ears as he stood motionless, voices promising what joys he would find if he waited just a moment longer. The Web Weaver lowered herself onto the branch, crouching down like a hunting cat about to spring. Her body shook again, and those weblike wings beat against each other, creating a sound like paper rubbing against wood. A cooing trill issued from her mocking mouth and the Web Weaver reached out, twisting a lock of Jezryn’s hair around a long finger. Her free hand slowly, teasingly ran up his chest, pitlike black eyes seizing Jezryn in his final moments of life. A sharp nail scratched against his neck, drawing a thin line of blood…
A keen split the air as white fire sprang to life around a magical blade. A low hum issued below the piercing notes of the scream, and it rang deeply into the night as Anariel’s arcing blade sliced through the Web Weaver’s arm. The limb splashed into the shallow water, but it was hardly stationary. As if it were still attached, the arm lunged forward toward Anariel, long claws digging deep into her ankle as it scratched its way up her leg. Anariel leaped back in horror, grabbing the hand and desperately ripping it from its hold. Blood oozed from deep cuts in her leg—seeming more than it actually was due to the water. It swirled out like a red stain in the gentle current of the brown, murky liquid, floating past the moaning monster writhing against the tree. The Web Weaver continued her screaming, but those terrible black eyes slowly focused on the elf.
The smell of blood was thick in the air.
Anariel felt the eyes of the monster boring into her, but a cold was slowly creeping through her body. Her swords became heavy in her hands, though she was unable to let go as her muscles locked.
The intoxicating scent that had lured Jezryn to his certain doom suddenly faded, and the smell of rotting flesh replaced it. The haze left him, and the Web Weaver knew it. A scream like the call of an old hag ripped the air, and the slicing claws on her remaining hand reached hungrily for Anariel in an attempt to reach her victim before the shade elf could stop her. Jezryn jumped in front of the lunging monster and grabbed the fiery elf, taking her beneath the water. Jezryn expected her to be struggling in his grasp, but she was completely still, almost lifeless. A cold dread set in his stomach, though he did not dare surface. Even with the roar of the water in his ears, he could hear the furious shrieks of the Web Weaver.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The denizen of the Ewgnu Adnan flitted above the water like a dragonfly. She could not swim, and too much water on her delicate wings would destroy them. Blood still flowed through the muck of the swamp, leaving an obvious trail. Another screech issued from the creature, and her wings beat the air angrily as she swooped up to the tree canopy. The Web Weaver hovered quietly for a moment, then threw her head back. A high, moaning keen echoed mournfully through the air, like a wolf howling to the moon but without the eerie beauty. It was answered almost immediately by several more similar sounds, and soon, the trees seemed to be alive as countless Web Weavers erupted from the thick foliage, answering the hunting call of their sister.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Anariel,” Jezryn called quietly as he dragged her up onto the bank. He could hear the screams of the other Web Weavers joining the first, and he knew it was only a matter of time. Just one of the monsters had reacted to the blood on Anariel in an extremely violent fashion; he could not imagine what nearly a dozen would do.
“Anariel,” he whispered again, gently clapping her face. Her eyes were closed, though she still breathed. She was completely unmoving like a corpse, oblivious to all his attempts to wake her. Blood still oozed from her leg, and Jezryn quickly tore a piece of his shirt to tie it off. The scratches were deep, but not seriously so. A poison was obviously the problem, though what scared him even more was that her healing sithu had yet to reveal itself.
He knew he could not let her die. A dead trophy would not have Vanima welcome him back with open arms. No, she would have to be alive, and he would let himself be ripped apart by the Web Weavers before he let them take away his only hope.
A high-pitched squeal tore through the air, and the soft sound of rubbing sandpaper grew steadily closer. “Oh, come on,” Jezryn gasped, shaking her desperately. “Anariel!” He growled in frustration and growing fear, then lifted her into his arms. She had said something about a river and how the Web Weavers feared this friend she had spoken of. Perhaps he could reach it. Finding it was as simple as following the current the opposite direction it was flowing. Jezryn adjusted his hold on Anariel, then began making his way through the trees as quickly as possibly. He was hesitant to find something that scared even the hideous Web Weavers, but at the moment, it was his only chance.
Jezryn looked down to the elf in his arms as he jogged awkwardly through the trees, her head lying limply against his shoulder. Her tanned skin was pale as what he guessed was a poison continued to spread through her body, and she seemed so frail and delicate compared to the fierce elf maiden that had been delivered to him by Vanima’s dragons. It was a strange sight, and slightly terrifying to realize that even one so powerful as she could be struck down.
“You are better than this,” he told her as he ran. “Are you going to let a mindless monster end everything?”
As the shade elf continued to run through the trees, he continued to yell at her, venting his frustrations as he willed her to not give up. The irony that he was saving the one who had destroyed him had hit him a while ago, but still he fled.
“You are my chance,” he hissed. “I cannot do it without you.” The shade elf tightened his grip, hugging her closer as he twisted between two closely knit trees. “If you die here, you might as well have let me die back at the camp!”
The Web Weavers shrieked and moaned, and Jezryn’s muscles began to cry out for him to stop. Anariel was becoming increasingly heavier as he grew tired, and his muscled chest heaved as he forced himself on. His job, his old life restored danced just before him, and he only had to run a few more steps before he could attain it.
Suddenly, everything went deathly quiet.
Jezryn jogged a few more steps, then came to a nervous halt. His stomach flipped over in dread.
Faintly, he felt a rain drop hit his head and he squinted up through the tree canopy in an effort to see the sky. Instead, he saw silvery wisps of what looked like hair hanging down from a tree branch above his head. Another raindrop fell from above and hit his cheek. Bile rose in Jezryn’s throat. Very slowly, he lowered Anariel to the ground, then touched the drop that had not trickled down his cheek like water should. Red stained his pale, light gray fingers.
The Web Weaver wailed pitifully as she cocked her head weirdly, her one hand flexing back and forth on the tree branch as if she were trying to strangle it. Jezryn eyed the stump that had been her other arm, then cringed when the sound of fluttering issued loudly. Another of the creatures had landed in a tree directly behind him. Jezryn glanced down to Anariel and a despairing breath fled his body. Her breathing had become more ragged, and her chest barely rose as she struggled to draw in air. More wings beat the air, and Jezryn’s fear only grew as ten more of the monsters landed in the nearby trees, ever so slowly creating a circle with their numbers.
Every inch seeming a mile, Jezryn slowly knelt down to Anariel’s side and removed a curving dagger from her black shirt, his eyes never leaving his attackers. He paused when one of the creatures trilled warily, but proceeded a moment later and removed the other five. He silently cursed himself for losing her swords, wondering what her reaction would be like should she wake up. Daggers were better than nothing, however. He knew his own sword was hidden in the fiery elf’s cloak, but he also knew he could not get it, even if he had the time to try. Slowly he straightened, keeping his eye fixed on the injured Web Weaver. They had spoken no words, and Jezryn guessed they were more animal than an actual intelligent race. Thus, an injured animal was twice as deadly. He could not miss.
The dagger whipped through the air, imbedding itself deep in the heart of the wounded Web Weaver. She screeched loudly and tumbled from the tree, landing hard in the soft ground. Enraged screamed filled the air from the other surrounding Web Weavers. Two threw back their heads and let out long, piercing keens—the hunting call to summon more of their sisters. The rest lifted from their perches.
Like diving birds, they quickly constructed a pattern. Hovering in a general ring just out of reach, one dove down like a crow aiming for a carcass. Claws ripped the air just over Jezryn’s head, and the Web Weaver returned to the ring. Another from across the way dove down next, diving low toward the shade elf’s feet in an attempt to trip him. Jezryn twisted away and slashed down with one of the five daggers he still held. Steel met bone as the weapon cracked into the wing of the creature. At the speed the monster was flying, the dagger was torn from Jezryn’s hand. Still, however, the Web Weaver went into an uncontrolled spin. Screaming in terror, she crashed into a net of branches before her and slapped against the trunk of a tree.
The Web Weavers gave up their evasive attack strategy at the sight of yet another sister meeting her doom. Like a hungry mass of vultures, the ring crumbled, and the Web Weavers dove as one. Jezryn fell protectively over Anariel, his grip tightening on the remaining four daggers.
A slender hand suddenly snapped around his wrist, and Jezryn struggled futilely as the daggers were forcibly pulled from his grasp. The Web Weaver backed away for a moment, studying them curiously. A wicked gleam came into her eyes a second later, and she mimicked what Jezryn had done to murder her sister. A dagger whistled through the air, landing in the dirt just before Jezryn’s face. Another buried itself in Jezryn’s pant leg, narrowly missing skin. The third sliced a bit of his hair. The last found its target. The shade elf screamed as the steel went completely through his left hand, and the smell of fresh blood seeped out into the air. Excited, high-pitched chattering hammered into the shade elf’s ears as he quickly buried his hand beneath his body in an effort to conceal the sight of the blood. One Web Weaver grabbed his ankle, while another tangled her wicked nails in his hair. Jezryn struggled violently as he was dragged off Anariel, but two more came to assist their sisters and he was successfully moved. The group split, and spittle began collecting in their mouths as they began to anticipate the taste of the sweet blood that perfumed the air.
Suddenly, a terrified scream issued from one of the monsters hovering over Anariel, and a Web Weaver about to sink her pointed teeth into Jezryn stopped dead. The shade elf tried to move away, but the creatures continued to hold him. Everything was deadly silent for a few moments as the Web Weavers listened intently for whatever had frightened one.
A dull thud issued from somewhere deep within the foliage. The Web Weavers hissed, and some curled back in a fetal position while still hovering in the air.
Another dull beat, followed quickly by another.
A single cry came out from the mass as a Web Weaver darted about in a circle, unsure of what to do.
Four more thumps.
Three Web Weavers shrieked and darted away, unable to stand their ground. The other monsters fluttered back, some lowering to the ground. On all fours, one scrambled forward to Anariel in a sudden frenzy. Just one bite would satisfy her for a day.
Eight pounding beats issued, much louder than before.
The Web Weaver screamed and leaped back, jumping into the air and flying away. Jezryn lay very still, panting as the few remaining Web Weavers decided what to do. The one gripping his hair twitched as another thud issued. She looked to her sister holding his ankle, and both slowly let go. More collected than the others, they slowly left, but Jezryn saw the fear in their eyes. At the sight of the apparent leaders leaving their victims, the rest of the Web Weavers disintegrated into chaos. Screams ripped the air and flying bodies temporarily concealed the tree canopy above as a monster fled in every single direction.
Jezryn slowly sat up, his left hand pierced with the dagger throbbing and sending pulsing pain shooting up his arm. The shade elf gasped in pain, then tore off another piece of his shirt and stuffed it in his mouth. Grasping the hilt of the weapon with a shaking hand, he bit down hard on the cloth, closed his eyes, and pulled. The shade elf’s scream was muffled through his shirt as the blade ripped from his hand, and it fell to the ground as he rolled away in agony. Everything seemed fuzzy as he tried to focus, and black spots began to dance before his eyes. Unconsciousness slowly began to grab his mind as the pain started to engulf him, but he shook his head, a groan slipping between his clenched teeth as he fought the haze.
The shade elf moaned, clutching his hand, but the sharp voice shook him. He inhaled sharply, coughing as he pushed himself up onto his knees, then took the cloth from his mouth and tied it around his hand. He cried out as he tightened the knot, but forced himself to somewhat ignore the pain and crawl to Anariel’s side. He put his face before her mouth in an effort to feel air passing out of her lips, but he could not distinguish between the slight breeze in the swamp and the elf’s breathing.
Another thud issued, causing Jezryn to jump, and he slowly lifted his head in the direction of the sound. He cleared his throat, shaking himself further from the pulsing pain, then forced himself to focus.
He frowned when he saw nothing but deep green foliage. There was a creature somewhere, for the footsteps had not matched the pattern of a two-legged being. He eyes narrowed as he stared deeper into the trees, then jerked back when something suddenly moved. He saw something black shift through the dense vegetation, but then he heard the receding sound of pounding hoof beats. A horse? he wondered. He was confused, and he had no idea what a horse would be doing in the Ewgnu Adnan.
The shade elf jerked, then recognized Anariel. His eyes widened when he realized she had been the one who had yelled at him and shaken him from his pain.
Jezryn looked down to Anariel, but she remained still, her eyes closed. Anariel? he asked in his mind, hoping she had the strength to read it. It was a one-way conduit really.
Jezryn could barely hear her. She sounded weaker than she had been just a few seconds ago. Get what out?
The shade elf quickly moved to her leg, shielding his hand as best he could. Gently, he untied the section of his shirt tempering the blood, then tore away at her pant leg to better view the wound. He cursed silently under his breath when the full view of the cuts opened up to him. A piece of the Web Weaver’s claw was still in her leg, continually injecting its poison. Jezryn looked around frantically, then noticed the dead Web Weaver on the ground. He slowly walked over to avoid unnecessary jostling to his punctured hand and rolled the creature onto her back, pulling the curving dagger from her chest. He held it gingerly, her very blood possibly poisonous, and managed to tear another piece from his shirt to clean it. He would need a new one at this point. Moving back to Anariel, he held the slender tip against her leg and slowly pressed down. The sharp dagger sliced through her tender skin directly under the deeply imbedded nail, and Jezryn wiggled it as gently as possible to dig it out. Anariel’s breathing quickened, and her eyelids fluttered for a moment before she went still.
“Just a second,” Jezryn whispered through gritted teeth, then carefully scooped the claw onto the flat of the blade. He did not dare touch it, for fear he would poison himself, and slowly walked away to toss it far into the undergrowth. As he turned around, relief flooded through him when he saw little flecks of white light flitting about Anariel’s wound. Jezryn slumped wearily against a tree and breathed deeply against the pulsing, stabbing pain climbing up his arm as white sparks of sithu linked together, obscuring the leg in its glow. A brilliant flash lit up the immediate area, and then slowly faded, revealing Anariel’s leg perfectly healed.
“Anariel?” Jezryn called softly. He groaned and got back to his feet as Anariel’s eyes fluttered open. She frowned and looked around without moving, obviously exhausted from the poison’s influence.
“What happened?” she rasped, rolling onto her side and lifting herself up on one elbow.
Jezryn slowly knelt down next to her. She watched him warily, and the shade elf quietly cursed the fact that they were not near any sort of mirror. In this condition, which obviously wouldn’t last very long, he would have no trouble dragging her back to Athelion. The bishop stays free, he thought sourly.
“The Web Weavers attacked us,” he said, reaching out to help, but snapping his injured hand away when Anariel nearly bumped it. “They were scared away by something. I…thought it looked like a horse…but…”
Anariel’s eyes widened. “A horse?” she questioned. Jezryn nodded, studying her closely. He had a suspicion that the horse was not what it had seemed to be.
Anariel sat up and slowly got to her feet. “That was…” Her eyes closed in sudden weariness, and she slowly slumped down. Jezryn quickly leaped up and caught her with one arm, shielding his injured hand as best he could. Her soft hair brushed against his nose as she stumbled against him, and the scent of cedar chips and fresh pine washed over him. Jezryn sucked in a sharp breath, the sense of familiarity nearly overwhelming.
No, he told himself. I did not dream about her. He frowned as Anariel breathed deeply in a wave of exhaustion, and she slowly closed her eyes, laying her head against his strong shoulder. Jezryn swallowed and looked away. Not her, he hissed at himself. His scowl deepened as he continued to hold her uneasily with one arm, his thoughts spinning down in a spiral of confusion—then scheming and calculation.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “I just need to catch my breath for a second.”
“Take your time,” Jezryn replied stiffly. A stab of pain shot up his arm from his hand, and Jezryn winced. He glanced down at Anariel to distract himself, then blinked in surprise at her lush, dark eyelashes gently fanned against her cheek. She was beautiful, he could not deny that, and memories of her coyly circling him in his tent had a small smile creeping onto his face. His earlier fantasy distracted him as well. Then he jerked back to reality.
What is she trying to do? he wondered irritably. Charm me? He thought about that for a moment, then smirked.
I will drag you back to Athelion even if I have to make you fall in love with me first!
Jezryn smiled. Perhaps I will do the charming, he mused, brushing a lock of her fiery hair out of her face.
Anariel stirred as soon as he touched her, and she jerked away from him like he was a snake. Jezryn bit his lip and suppressed a groan as pain throbbed slowly up his arm. Anariel stumbled back a few steps, then caught herself as she almost fell. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
Jezryn shrugged, shaking away the black spots that started to dance again. “Nothing, shiskik ilthinian,” he said innocently, flashing that disarming smile of his.
The elf studied him suspiciously, wondering what he was playing at. She considered entering his mind to find out, then decided against it. She was tired of constantly checking up on him, and she already knew of the plan he had been trying to conceal from her. The bishop is definitely staying free, she thought defiantly. Anariel gave him one last look, tucking a wisp of red hair behind a pointed ear, then turned slowly about.
“You did see a horse, but he is…” She trailed off and took a step forward, nearly falling once again.
“Should we rest a while?” Jezryn asked, hovering close should he need to catch her again. Anariel glanced at him and shook her head.
“We are nearly at my friend’s dwelling.”
“Yes,” Jezryn said, skipping forward and catching her with one arm as she stumbled. His hand pulsed in protest, and blood further soaked the already saturated bandage. “But you will not get very far.” He held her gently, then slowly let go when her legs stopped shaking. He hesitated, then worked his face into what he hoped came off as a friendly smile.
Anariel stared at him for a few minutes, realizing he had not left her like he could have. She cocked her head in confusion as she realized the implications of that thought, her red hair tumbling down over one shoulder. Her forehead crinkled into a frown as she stared at him. “You saved my…” Anariel closed her mouth a bit sharply and looked away, unsure of what to do. She was unaccustomed to being the damsel in distress. “Thank you,” she said curtly after a long moment of silence, her eyes darting to him, then away as she bit back her questions.
Jezryn hid a smile. Good, she is starting to trust me. “Was the horse the friend you spoke of?” he asked, kindly changing the subject. He guessed that the short expression of gratitude was all he was going to get, though he saw her confused questions written plainly on her face. Why had he bothered? he knew she was thinking, or something along those lines. It occurred to him that she could simply enter his mind and figure out all his schemes for keeping her alive, but her continued bewilderment told him she had not. He wondered why.
Anariel reacted immediately to his question and smoothed her perplexed expression to the familiar face of irritated tolerance. I am apparently still a nuisance, Jezryn thought wryly.
Anariel opened her mouth to answer, but stopped, a frown coming onto her face. She looked down at herself, noting the six daggers gone from the almost imperceptible slots in her shirt. Her sword belt was missing also. “What…?”
Jezryn stepped back. “It was either let you die, or—”
“What direction did you run from?” Anariel asked a bit shortly, cutting him off. Jezryn closed his mouth, surprised that she was not particularly angry with him, then pointed. Perhaps she was too exhausted to care very much.
Anariel glanced in the direction he indicated, then closed her eyes. Nothing happened for several minutes—they were a good distance away from the original attack area—but then both elves heard the snapping of twigs as something large flew through the trees. Jezryn’s normally composed face flashed momentary surprise when he saw the dripping sword belt fly the last few feet through the air, then fall into Anariel’s waiting hand. She glanced around her surroundings after strapping on the belt, then flicked a finger in a circle. A dagger shot from the direction where a Web Weaver had smashed into a tree, and others shot up from various places in the ground. Jezryn watched with bitter eyes as the one stained with his blood jerked up into the air.
“Come,” Anariel said. “I will recover more as we go along.” She took a step forward and reached for his hand. Time seemed to slow as Jezryn realized exactly which hand she was reaching for, but then it sped up again, and he did not have enough time to jerk it away.
She grabbed it and squeezed.
Jezryn yelled and the elf jumped as he fell to the ground moaning. As quickly as she was able in her weakened state, she knelt down next to him, wondering what in the world she had done.
“Hisa ce fe?” she asked, then stopped when she saw his hand. She gasped. “Why did you not tell me?” she cried.
“You…Sithuway,” Jezryn growled through clenched teeth, wishing he could leap up and strangle her. Maybe wooing her was not the best idea. He would wind up killing her before kissing her!
“Stupid male,” she huffed, horrified with herself. “You are all the same. Asking for help is not a crime, you know.” He had been a downright pest, latching onto her like a bloodsucking leech, but she had not wished to actually hurt him.
Not seriously anyway.
Jezryn groaned and rolled over just to distract himself from the agony. Anariel gently but quickly pulled him back, then took his wrist. Jezryn shouted something indecipherable as she lightly touched a single finger to his left hand, and white light slowly traveled down toward the wound. It traveled like grasping fingers as light touched his palm and the surface of his hand, quickly obscuring the wound in its gentle glow. Another brilliant flash lit up the nearby trees, then faded away to reveal the hand.
“Are all the nerves okay?” she asked anxiously. Jezryn shook his head to clear the haze that had descended upon him and frowned.
“What?” he rasped, his breath slowly returning.
Anariel stopped short, realizing he knew nothing about anatomy. “Can you move it?” she translated. Jezryn slowly began working his fingers, though his eyes widened in growing horror when he realized how difficult it was.
“Zak hishnezek?” he cried. A hand was as important to a fighter as it was to an archer. Any weakness could be used as an advantage by an opponent.
“I was afraid of that,” Anariel said with a sigh. “I can possibly heal it a few more times, but I am not sure how affective it will be. You might have to work with it on your own…exercise.”
Jezryn calmed a bit. “Will that get it back?” he questioned.
Anariel shook her head. “I do not know.”
Jezryn frowned and wiggled his fingers experimentally.
“At least you use your right hand more,” she offered, truly sympathizing with him.
Jezryn shook his head, a cynical smile flitting around his lips. “No,” he said quietly. “I am left-handed.”
Anariel winced and bit her lip.
1. Shiskik ilthinian--Little princess
2. Hisa ce fe?--What is it?
3. Zak hishnezek?--What happened?
|Riddle, Riddle, Chant, and Rhyme||The Order of the Dragon Chapter I|
|The Order of the Dragon Chapter G||Behind the Mask|
|The Order of the Dragon Chapter K.htm||The Elven Outcast|