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This is the eleventh part of my story and the last (I mean it this time) part that I will upload. In this section, it continues with Dazzan and Anariel and reveals the history of Vanima and why she is evil. I thought this was an important thing to upload. Also, there is a huge section of action which I personally think is hilarious. Enjoy!
Edit: You might want to reread the Jezryn scenes, but other than that, nothing really changes. Ilitha grows a heart...kinda. 2/19/2010
The Scum of the Earth
Ssa languished in the sunlight, her head extended toward its rays as it crested the horizon. She laid perfectly still, her six foot coils stretched to their limit, waiting for the traitors to emerge from the swamp. The bullfrog she had eaten had completely digested a few hours ago, but she still felt lazy. There were no trees in the wide open field, so she had chosen a spot away from the shade elves to avoid being stepped on. The serpent had no intention of moving for a few hours if she could manage it, and dodging feet was not something she considered to be relaxing.
Balâg—unaware of the snake’s presence—stretched out on his back in the golden grass, clasping his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes to block the stinging glare of the sun, and simply basked in its warmth, feeling the desire to simply relax just as much as Ssa. The wind waved the delicate blades of grass gently back and forth, and the ground rippled like the sea as the field stretched all the way back to the Ewgnu Adnan. It was still night, but the sun was just marking the new day. Anariel and Jezryn had entered the swamp the night before, and had yet to emerge. He was certain they were dead.
Ilitha completely ignored him, her attention fixed on a thin green line across the rolling hills that marked the dangerous swamp.
Balâg sighed. “Relax,” he said to her, still examining his hair. “They will die, and we will both have our revenge.” He stopped, and he looked up at her. “You will be mine again,” he added softly.
Ilitha snarled and spun around, beginning to pace back and forth. Her amber golden eyes never left the swamp, and she clenched and unclenched her fists in a mixture of rage and impatience.
Ssa gave an irritated hiss. Ssstand ssstill, you insssufferable biped!
“Ilitha, they are dead,” Balâg reiterated, sitting up. He started to wish she was still scared. In the swamp, she had not said one harsh thing to him, and she had clung to him desperately. Now, she was back to her old temperamental self. Charming. Still, he blamed Jezryn for her personality change. He was the one who had made her cold.
Ilitha suddenly stopped and her gaze snapped to look at him. She tilted her head, studying him closely, then came to the conclusion that he had meant what he said. “Do you really think that, you fool?” she hissed. “Why would Vanima give me a crystal ball if she did not want to watch. The Veldriss wants them alive. She would not allow them to be killed this way.”
Balâg stared, realization hitting him. “Oh,” was all he could say. “You did not tell me—”
“The Veldriss wants to study Anariel,” Ilitha said, cutting him off. “She wants to determine the level of her power so her capture can be made easier.” The shade elf gave a growling sigh of frustration and resumed her pacing.
“We have one more crystal ball,” she continued. “One more thing has to be unleashed upon them, and then we will be able to return to Athelion. Vanima located a nearby group of orcs and goblins through her mirrors. Once Anariel and Jezryn emerge from the swamp, we will send the stupid beasts on the hunt.”
Balâg slowly got to his feet. “Why are you telling me this now?”
“Need to know,” Ilitha replied impatiently. She looked again to the thin green line that was the swamp. “Come out already,” she growled, grinding her teeth together.
“Perhaps Vanima made a mistake,” Balâg offered cautiously. “It has been a long time.”
Ilitha whipped around and slapped him. “The Veldriss does not make mistakes!” she spat sharply.
Balâg winced, then frowned deeply and caught her wrist. “Let me rephrase,” he said slowly, his grip tightening. “Perhaps you made a mistake in understanding what the Veldriss wanted.”
Ilitha jerked away, but Balâg caught her and pulled her to him roughly. He pressed his lips firmly against hers, tangling his fingers in her soft brown hair. The shade elf General crushed against her, wrapping a powerful arm around her waist, and he lifted her into his arms. Ilitha suddenly shoved him, and Balâg fell back into the grass. She immediately pinned him to the ground, kissing him passionately as she reminded him of who she was. The shade elf ran her hands along his neck and across his chest, clutching him to her, and beneath one palm, she felt his racing heart. Ilitha vented her anger and frustration on him, pressing him firmly into the grass, but then she suddenly pulled back, breaking the kiss abruptly.
“I did not make a mistake,” she hissed, straddling his stomach.
Balâg had to regain his breath before he could respond. “Ilitha,” he began, a pleading expression in his eyes, “we do not have to do this.”
Ilitha stared at him in shock. “You sound like you did back in the camp.”
“Jezryn is dead anyway, even if he is not dead in the swamp this very instant. You are free, and we can leave right now.”
“We can find a home together,” Balâg replied. “We do not have to be a part of this anymore. I stayed as long as I did in the Order because of you. I did not want to leave you trapped there.”
“You are talking about disserting,” Ilitha said coolly.
The red-bellied black snake in the grass slowly turned her head to look at the shade elves. Ssa had purposely ignored them when they had begun to kiss, the very idea revolting to the reptile, but now, the conversation had begun to get interesting. Disserting? The serpent flicked out her black forked tongue in anticipation.
Balâg hesitated, then said, “It would not be like that. Perhaps Vanima—”
“No one leaves the Order of the Dragon except by incapability or death,” Ilitha recited immediately. “Loyalty is everlasting. Service is everlasting.” She moved to get off of him, but the shade elf grabbed her.
“Perhaps Vanima will release us as her reward,” he said.
Ilitha stared at him, fighting against the mocking, condescending expression that pleaded to come onto her face.
“You said she would reward us.”
Ilitha found another angle, and she pounced. “We will not be rewarded unless we complete or mission. That involves the orcs and goblins.” Slowly, she leaned down, tenderly caressing his cheek. She softly pressed her lips against his, running a hand gently up his muscled arm. This was the Ilitha Balâg remembered, not the vicious shade elf she had been with their previous kiss. He held her gently behind her neck, inhaling her smell as her hair tumbled down around him.
“Perhaps after this we can leave,” Ilitha whispered, her lips brushing his as she spoke.
Balâg ran the back of his hand along her cheek. “I was wondering when I would see you again,” he said softly, not realizing that Ilitha’s loving expression was a lie. “I love you.”
Ilitha gave a fake warm smile. She leaned down to kiss him again, but the faint sound of hoof beats interrupted her. Her head jerked up, and her eyes immediately went to the Ewgnu Adnan in the distance. She sucked in a breath when she saw black and white dots—to horses—trotting easily on the horizon.
“You made the mistake,” she cried, hitting Balâg excitedly on the shoulder. “See, I was right.” A wicked smile curled her lips. “Finally,” she whispered, a hungry glint entering her eyes.
Balâg watched her closely, then desperation flooded through him. “Wait,” he pleaded softly, but the gentle, affectionate Ilitha he loved disappeared. He saw only the temperamental, ambitious shade elf as she stood, shading her eyes to better see the targets.
“We must go,” she said, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and hauling him to his feet. She dragged him along the first few steps, then let go and broke into a run. “The orcs should be over the next rise,” she called back over her shoulder, pointing off toward a high hill.
Balâg matched her pace, staring at her back as she ran. I will get you back, he thought.
Ssa watched them go, loathing the idea of moving. She had rested all night, granted, but it had been a while since she had bathed in the sun. The serpent stared after them with her pitlike black eyes, arguing with herself, but then, her lazy side won out. Ssa stretched her head toward the sun, revealing her crimson belly, and sat motionless, letting the warm rays slowly soak into her body.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The band of orcs and goblins—ten in all—leaped to their feet when the two shade elves entered their camp, drawing their weapons and snarling defensively. They were both armed—the male with a sword and dirk, and the female with a bow and arrows—and the orcs knew they were outmatched just by looking at them.
“Who is the leader?” Ilitha asked, nocking an arrow and pulling back on the string.
A big, burly orc stepped forward, one large canine tooth protruding out past his upper lip. It was broken, creating a jagged edge which Ilitha assumed he was proud of. She narrowed her eyes and aimed the arrow directly at the disgusting thing’s heart.
“I’m Grag,” the orc said in a grating voice. “What do yous wants?”
Balâg and Ilitha exchanged glances. Grag?
“We want you and your gang to do us a favor,” Balâg said slowly, drawing his sword and teasingly fingering the hilt. The other orcs shuffled uneasily, and a goblin hopped from one spindly leg to the other, fingering his wart-covered nose.
“Prove to us you are not as stupid as people say you are,” Ilitha snarled. “Drop your weapons.”
Grag bared his teeth at the insult, as did a few others, but not all reacted. They blinked in confusion before someone leaned over and explained. The two groups eyed each other for a full minute before the orcs and goblins displayed true genius by listening to the shade elf.
“Very good,” Ilitha hissed sweetly, lowering her bow.
Balâg sheathed his sword, then walked forward toward Grag. He put one arm around his shoulders in a friendly, yet threatening gesture, then moved off with him until they were in sight of Anariel and Jezryn. “You see those two over there, right?” he asked, pointing.
Grag nodded, feeling extremely uncomfortable with this dangerous stranger touching him. The shade elf had put away his sword, but he still held the dagger in his free hand.
“All we want you to do is attack them,” Balâg explained, smiling at him with an innocent, friendly expression. “They have something of ours that we want back. It is a…gold…piece of jewelry that is…extremely…valuable.”
The orc’s eyes lit up at the words “gold” and “valuable.” Perhaps this unexpected visit was a good thing. “Gold?” he questioned.
Balâg nodded slowly, his smile widening. “Retrieve that for us, and you can have all the other loot on them.” The shade elf leaned close and whispered in the creature’s ear. “They are very rich. One of them has a little royal blood in them.”
“Which one, which one?” the orc asked desperately, saliva slowly dripping from his mouth.
“The redhead,” Balâg replied. The orc let out a feral snarl, and his yellow, curving claws curled back into his palms as he clenched his fists. His bloodshot eyes bulged, and Balâg feared the beast might have a stroke.
“Can you help us?” the shade elf asked, drawing him back to the conversation.
The orc nodded eagerly, forgetting to ask two rather important questions: “Why do you want us to do it?” and “Are they armed and dangerous?” Unfortunately, these logical queries were completely lost on the gullible, stupid beast, and he practically ran back to his band. Balâg walked smugly back to Ilitha, and the two exchanged grins as the orcs rallied themselves.
“Please do not start chanting ‘Death’,” Ilitha pleaded softly, smirking at Balâg. The shade elves started laughing when the orcs and goblins began to do just that. The two calmly walked away, the beasts in such a frenzy they could have set off fireworks and no one would have noticed. Ilitha glanced up above her head, then quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out the last crystal ball, perching it on a tree branch that showed a good view of the extensive field.
“They will be dead in fifteen minutes,” Balâg commented.
“I will bet ten,” Ilitha replied. They looked at each other—each having the time of their lives—then shook on it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Perhaps you should explore me, shiskik ilthinian.
Anariel snorted and rolled her eyes. Of all the arrogant, cocky… She trailed off, shaking her head as she tightened her grip in Asrai’s mane.
After catching up to the stallion and his rider, the pegasus spread her great feathered wings and dove down, tail whipping out behind her as the wind gusted up. Her mane hit Anariel in the face, but she did not care; the feel of the wind was too exhilarating, and it served as a good distraction from the rather disturbing look Jezryn had given her.
Asrai circled about a bit behind the trotting kelpie, and eventually descended, wings folding against her sides like a great eagle after settling on a branch. The winged horse pranced about like an arrogant debutant, tossing her head and flipping her mane from one side of her muscled, yet delicate neck to the other. Asrai slowly walked forward, her chiseled head turned in Cheval’s direction. She snorted repeatedly, nostrils flaring as she took in the sight of this newcomer.
“You have met him before,” Anariel offered, leaning down to whisper into the pegasus’s ear. “If I remember correctly, you fancied him more than a little…at least when he looks like this.”
Asrai squealed and shook her head in defiance at Anariel’s words, then broke into a lively trot, high-stepping past the stallion and shade elf. She flicked her tail in the air at the last moment and it hit solidly against Cheval’s face. The stallion snorted and wheeled about in pursuit, gleaming teeth snapping the air. But Asrai seemed unconcerned and bolted, coming to a bouncing halt a few feet away. She spun and cocked her head, staring at him out of the corner of her eye.
“I think they like each other,” Anariel called to Jezryn, riding out Asrai’s shifting with perfect balance.
“Of course,” Jezryn replied sarcastically, controlling his mount with equal ease.
Anariel laughed, then spun the pegasus in a circle to calm her. She kicked her heels into her sides, urging her into an easy canter, then let go of Asrai’s mane and leaned back comfortably, placing her elbows at the start of the pegasus’s rump like she was relaxing on the beach.
Not to be outdone, Cheval started off without being told by his rider. Jezryn moved to correct that, but then he remembered the identity of his mount when a drop of water found his hand. He let it go, and the stallion soon pulled up next to the pegasus. The two seemed to agree to a silent truce, for neither broke into a faster gait.
Anariel fidgeted with her hands for a moment, then reached behind her for her black cloak. She waved her hand across the section where the pocket was, and the cloth unstitched itself, revealing the magical compartment. The elf reached her entire arm into the space—up to her shoulder—before she pulled out the sword and twisted dagger Jezryn used.
“Do you promise not to attack me with them?” she asked sternly, offering him the weapons. She saw a flash of surprise enter Jezryn’s royal-blue gaze, but he composed himself and wisely reached for them without question. Anariel did not let go. “Ankila,” she reiterated.
“I promise not to attack you with them,” the shade elf replied, offering a beguiling grin.
Anariel released the sword and dagger, a slight smile touched the fiery elf’s full lips as she turned away.
Jezryn smirked, guessing what she was up to. “Are you in my head?” he asked as he strapped his sword belt around his waist.
Good, she did not recognize my technicality, the former General thought. He couldn’t help but smile, privately rolling his eyes. There are many ways of coercion, shiskik ilthinian.
“I forgot how beautiful the plains are beyond the swamp,” Anariel commented, looking out across the rolling hills that spread out before they crossed under the last lines of trees marking the Ewgnu Adnan. Tall golden grass swished away and back as the horses passed, rising up to almost tickle their bellies. The sun seemed to shine brighter in its first few minutes, creating a golden haze of light. Its rays seeming like fingers as they spread across the plane, slowly rising in the east as day approached. Anariel glanced over at Jezryn, then chuckled and sat up. “You are all wet,” she said.
Jezryn glanced down, and he realized just how soaked he actually was in that moment. His breeches clung to his legs as small streams of water dripped down onto the ground almost as much as Cheval’s mane.
“Here,” Anariel offered, chuckling again, then pressed her fingertips together, forming a small, manageable fireball. She extended her arm and held it near to Jezryn. She stared into the very core of the fire, and the shade elf felt the heat of the ball increase. Very soon, within mere seconds, he felt himself drying.
“Utulia fira bao nila,” Anariel said after a moment, closing her hand into a fist and extinguishing the fireball. “The fireball actually works better than a blow-dryer,” she commented, “though the spell I cast will save time.”
Be civil, Jezryn thought. A gentleman. “Thank you,” he said. He kept the frown off his face as he considered those two words. He thought it sounded like he had uttered something from a foreign language that had not come out quite right, and he cleared his throat in an attempt to fix whatever suddenly felt strange in his mouth.
Anariel looked at him in surprise. “That is the first time I have heard those words come out of your mouth,” she commented, slightly sarcastic.
Jezryn smiled. “I can be polite when the occasion calls, shiskik ilthinian,” he replied, almost teasing her.
“Hmph,” the fiery elf said. “I would not have guessed.”
He laughed, then cocked his head, his eyes catching the strange clasp that held her cloak.
“What?” Anariel asked.
“Is that the emblem of your god?” Jezryn questioned. “I have never seen it before.”
Anariel looked down at her shoulder to the silver clasp securing her black cloak. It was a white stag’s head, its majestic antlers angling up into a circle with a cross in the center. “It is the crest of the Eternal Light,” she said, “the only true God there is.”
“I have never heard of him,” Jezryn commented, noting her tone and how she had simply stated a fact. “Who is he?”
Anariel pulled back on Asrai’s mane and stopped, looking at him curiously. “Vanima did not tell you to seek out the crest of the Eternal Light?” she asked.
Jezryn shook his head. “I was never an assassin, nor one of her personal police. I was a General, tasked with running her armies.” He glanced at her, then raised an eyebrow. “Though…according to you…perhaps I would not remember if I went on such an assignment.”
Anariel frowned and met his gaze, wondering if he was mocking her or not. Probably.
“The white stag is a noble beast,” Anariel offered. She gently kicked her heels into Asrai’s sides, and the pegasus moved on in an easy walk. “It is a symbol of grace, majesty, and purity.” She looked at him and smiled. “It represents the beauty the Eternal Light is capable of creating.” She turned back and gazed out at the horizon, watching as the last sliver of the sun disappeared behind that invisible line. “But this creature is just an animal all the same, nothing more. The Eternal Light has and needs no idol.”
Jezryn frowned. “Vanima is your sister, so she should know about this god.”
Anariel snorted. “She knows,” she replied darkly. “I only found out after you told me that she had gone so far to say that she was a goddess. It is a new low for her.”
“Vanima has claimed to be a goddess even before I was born,” Jezryn told her. “The story goes that she came to my people as a black dragon long ago and has ruled over us ever since. You really had not heard of her before?”
“I had heard of her, just not like…” Anariel trailed off and bit her lip. “I…I distanced myself from…that world. I…” The fiery elf stopped, her lips thinning in anger. She looked to Jezryn when the silence had stretched long, and she saw his calculating frown as he studied her.
“You said Vanima came to the Zurrinai as a black dragon and has been their goddess ever since,” Anariel said. “But you do not know where she came from.”
“Part of my disbelief is the fact that she has a sister—you,” Jezryn replied. “You seem like an ordinary Sithuway to me, but, with such relations, you should also be a goddess.”
“No, I do not know her true origins,” he said. The shade elf propped his chin in his hand as he stared at her, then smiled. “I am allowing you a preaching session so you may educate me.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” Anariel commented. “Especially one as cocky as you.”
Jezryn chuckled. “Indulge me, shiskik ilthinian.”
“Will you stop calling me ‘little princess’?”
He grinned and slowly shook his head.
The fiery elf gave him a look, but decided it couldn’t hurt to tell him. He already knew part of it anyway. “Long ago,” she explained, “as I was taught, for I was not born for many, many more centuries, angels sent by the Eternal Light instructed the Sithuway to protect the humans, for they were too young to understand the complexities of the older races. And so, the Sithuway, the Eternal Ones, obeyed, and we lived among them in secret, instructing and teaching them the ways of the Eternal Light; how to be good, moral people.”
Anariel frowned. “Because shapeshifting was so rare, most of the elves that lived with the humans could do nothing to hide their ears. People noticed, but simply accepted it as the way of some.
“Then, the Sithuway discovered Earth, our sister planet of sorts. It was a fairly young world, much younger than ours, and the most powerful country of that time—Britain—was ruled by a succession of people all named Henry. The humans of Earth were very fragile at that time, so only a select few every really knew about the ‘aliens’ as they dubbed us. The elves that became curious of the humans on the new planet moved there to study them, carefully integrating themselves. Wars occurred, and somewhere in the mess, the knowledge that the people of Orosta actually existed was lost. Through the years, as humans on Earth began to grow more and more civilized, legends popped up about the ‘beautiful ones’ and the ‘hidden people’.” Soon, Earth’s take on the ‘fantasy’ world began filtering in to the humans of Orosta. Human children began running about, talking and laughing over little people with pointed ears and leaf-made clothes, living in shoes and cupboards, and causing mischief like one would describe a pixy. At first it was fun, and many who actually were elves could tease the children, telling them happy stories of fairies and dryads without any harm.”
Anariel sighed and shook her head. “We should have stayed back. More and more Sithuway, along with others of different types, were moving to Earth; these beautiful, curious, adventure-seeking people fascinated them, because what they had achieved had been done entirely on their own, whereas our humans had been constantly guided and secretly educated.”
Jezryn listened intently; he had never heard the history of the humans. Ever since he was a child, he had been taught that the humans were no better than orcs. They were meant to be used as slaves, and their goddess, the Veldriss, demonstrated this right. After he had eventually come to the conclusion that Vanima’s claim was false, he had gone on about his business, not giving that much attention to the rather pathetic race. If they had been stupid enough to be enslaved, that was their problem. Jezryn had written them off, but now he was curious how this seemingly less-than-significant people had anything to do with the powerful dictator.
“The leaders of the humans on Earth noticed an increase in the ‘pointy-eared population,’ and that started a growing concern,” Anariel said, turning away and wiping her eyes as best she could while concealing it from Jezryn. She hated the fact that she eventually cried when she talked about history, but that fateful day on Earth seemed to be where her troubles had begun. “Soon, doctors began working on a cure for ‘Pixieism’.” Anariel shook her head, and an incredulous laugh issued from her lips at the cruel irony of it all. “Seeré and I had been living on Earth for about three years—2005 to 2008—and the very day the humans conducted their first test, Vanima came from Athelion to visit us.
“The newspaper headlines read: ‘First Test Treatment for Pixieism Kills Subject.”
Jezryn lips parted slightly in realization. Ah, so that is why, he mused.
“Vanima took it personally,” Anariel whispered. “Anger beyond my understanding rose within her. I still do not understand why it affected her so. Of course, it was a horrible thing to have happen, but…it was just another shade elf. He was a complete stranger. Perhaps, she became angry with the humans, that they would have the audacity to do such a thing; she always viewed them as beneath all of elvenkind, so maybe it was a sort of slap in the face. She could have feared that the humans on Orosta would have tried to ‘cure’ us just as those on Earth had, but…still…” Anariel pressed her lips together. “You know what happens then,” she said quietly.
“The humans on Orosta did not know of your true existence, so Vanima showed her incredible power in the form of a dragon,” Jezryn said. “They would have known nothing of magic except what was in fairytales your people told them.”
“We assisted in our own destruction,” Anariel replied a bit dryly, a cynical smile flitting around her lips. “But Vanima only revealed herself on the final day of her scheming, only after she had a large enough army to enslave the human race. Khazar had already been murdered, I had left her side and fled from her wrath, my parents were dead, and my brother, Seeré, had been exiled. I have been searching for him for the last 150 years…ever since I fled.”
Jezryn was distracted. She had mentioned a name that he had not heard before. “Khazar?” he questioned slowly, and the sharp stab of pain he saw flash across Anariel’s face had him questioning her even more cautiously. A frown wrinkled his brow as he sensed a potential problem in his plan. “Who was he?”
Anariel clenched her jaw as her heart gave a strangled cry, shifting in her chest as the fractured pieces quavered. She winced at the physical pain, then replied quietly. “My late husband.”
Husband. Jezryn looked away before she saw his disappointment. That was what he had been afraid of as soon as he had heard the name. “Murdered, you said?” he asked quietly.
Anariel nodded. “Vanima killed him personally with a bow and arrow,” she said tightly.
Jezryn bit back a growl of irritation. She had a husband of all things! He was dead, yes, but the shade elf knew enough about the Sithuway and what they called the Eyla.
She would have to truly fall in love with me for it to stop. I do not have enough time or patience to try and break something so powerful.
The shade elf frowned. He had grown to like his idea about romancing her. It solved so many problems, and it made the job of possibly tricking her into Vanima’s clutches that much easier. But now, it seemed easier to take her by force. He thought about his dream, and confusion began to mix with his annoyance. If she was related to his fantasy, then his plan would have made the most sense. Why…?
The shade elf blinked, stirred himself from his contemplations, then turned back to look at her. He offered a smile to distract her, hopefully dissuading her from entering his mind. “I was processing the information,” he explained. He hesitated, then added, “I am sorry about him.”
Anariel did not exactly know how to react to the apparent show of kindness, so she just nodded. She cleared her throat awkwardly.
“Vanima made herself into a dictator five years after the first test subject,” she said, abruptly changing the subject. “The humans never showed any signs of doing what those on Earth had done, but Vanima did not seem to care. Her hate and lust for revenge had blinded her against the truth, and so she enslaved her supposed enemies.”
Jezryn watched her bury her grief as she gave a cynical smile, shaking her head. The sight bothered him slightly, but he did not understand why. It was the same sort of feeling he had experienced in his tent when he had felt compelled to apologize to her.
“It was how Vanima deceived me at all,” Anariel said. “She dragged me along until that final day because she dragged out doomsday, strategically killing all her enemies in a certain window of time, allowing my suspicion to fade away each time another was found dead.”
“What happened to the others?” Jezryn questioned. Here was information that was useful, information that went beyond personal curiosity. He doubted she would tell him, but it was worth a chance.
Anariel frowned. “Of whom do you speak of?”
“The other Sithuway,” he explained. “Besides Vanima, you are the only light elf I have ever met.”
Anariel stared at him, her emerald green eyes seeming to bore holes into his face. Jezryn knew that even with all she had just told him, she did not trust him enough in that regard. He smiled. The bishop moves back to the other side of the board.
“They are the enemies I spoke of that Vanima killed,” Anariel replied guardedly. “Others…escaped.”
Jezryn relented, surprised that she had offered even that information. “So where was your god in all of this?” he asked, though not disrespectfully.
Anariel glanced at him, her unease disappearing. “He was there, silently guiding us and helping us. He was guiding me especially after I fled from Athelion.”
“It would have been helpful to kill Vanima,” Jezryn replied.
Anariel’s eyebrows shot up. “What about your precious job?”
“My shiskik ilthinian,” Jezryn replied, a smirk spreading across his face. Anariel frowned slightly at the word “my” added in that annoying nickname. “If Vanima was dead, then I would not be a fugitive fearing for my life.”
“Hmm? And all this time, I thought you were only blaming me.”
“I do blame you,” the shade elf retorted, giving her a heartfelt glare. “If you had not escaped, Vanima would not have sent Elghinyrrok. However, because she did, she is also a danger until I can salvage my career.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Anariel asked cautiously.
Jezryn gave an incredulous sort of smile. “I have no idea,” he admitted. I have no idea now, he thought impatiently. “But I have more hope in Vanima for a future than you.”
“Thank you,” she said dryly.
Jezryn chuckled. “So why did this god not kill her when she turned her back on him?”
Anariel reached down and rubbed Asrai’s neck. “The Eternal Light loves those He has created, even Vanima, though it pains Him to see her reject Him so.”
“If it pains him so much, why does he not just get rid of her?”
“What kind of a God would He be if He did?” Anariel asked, running her fingers through Asrai’s soft, white mane. “He would be no better than a tyrant eradicating cities that oppose Him.” She looked to Jezryn. “He must be a fair God, following His own teachings as He asks, not orders, us to follow. He gives everyone a chance to be forgiven, no matter what the crime.”
“So,” Jezryn said slowly, gazing out at the red, pink, and gold horizon, “does he order you to kill your sister because her chance is over?” When no ensuing response was heard, he glanced back to the fiery elf. The shade elf saw the steely gaze in her eyes, the hardened, emotionless expression on her face. He saw her full lips thin as she clenched her jaw, and her delicate hands holding Asrai’s mane balled into fists, her knuckles turning white with the strength.
“No,” she said, her calm, neutral tone completely opposite her tense posture, “but He has not done anything to dissuade me either. I think He would have told me if He disapproved.”
Jezryn watched as her fists loosened, and she absently flipped a stray strand of hair from her face. A small smile—dismissive if nothing else—flitted about her mouth, and her shoulders bobbed up and down in a short chuckle. Jezryn couldn’t help but frown, for that little laugh rang hollow in his ears. As Anariel kicked her pegasus into a faster gait, his frown only deepened. That emotionless expression on her face had been meant to reveal nothing, but Jezryn knew well the tells of his warlike race. All elves not belonging to his race—the noblest race or a common wood elf—was hardly difficult to read, and he knew well the hardened look of revenge.
A faint rustle in the grass issued on his right, but the former General was too preoccupied with his contemplations to pay it any heed. Anariel still rode on, and her last statement still echoed in his mind.
She will find me!
Jezryn gritted his teeth against the images of his dream.
I cannot love you, or any man!
“Not you,” he growled. “Especially with Khazar.”
Still, his eyes fell on Anariel’s back, and he stared at those thick, waving curls as they streamed like a red flame; a lake of fire. Those piercing green eyes were exactly the same. The dream shot through his mind again, he was disturbed to find he was disappointed that he could not romance her. Perhaps it was for the best. If it was at all possible that she had something to do with his sleeping troubles, then the intense feelings he felt toward that elusive fantasy should not be applied to her. Anariel was a traitor, and he would be the one who would take her to Vanima for her deserved punishment. However, something deeper was going on, something beneath the chattering, happy princess mask she kept up.
He knew that the emotion of hate, the desire for revenge, had not been natural for her. The cold flash in her eyes, that hardened, emotionless expression, did not often cross the face of Anariel, if it ever had. Why has she waited until now? he wondered. 150 years and only now she moves… His thoughts trailed off and he looked to Anariel with sudden understanding. It took her 150 years to convince herself.
Sharp, slicing claws suddenly dug deep into his ankle, and he scrambled desperately to catch Cheval’s mane as the unseen attacker jerked hard to pull him off, but he missed, and the shade elf slipped off the black stallion. Jezryn hit the ground hard, but tucked into a roll to absorb some of the shock and leaped to his feet. Crooked teeth, warts, bulging heads of various sizes, and bloodshot, yellow eyes met his gaze. He heard Cheval scream behind him, and then pounding hooves receding into the night. Jezryn rolled his eyes and sighed. “Naturally,” he muttered.
The orcs, and a few goblins, shuffled uneasily when they truly got a look at their prey; a shade elf was no laughing matter. Grag had not told them they were attacking other shade elves, but when they looked at him, Grag seemed just as shocked. Still, the larger, uglier brute howled and shook his short sword high in the air. The others snarled and began stamping their feet, spittle shooting from their twisted mouths in their gleeful excitement.
An orc, brandishing a long pike, took a step forward, but a curious grunt escaped him. Even as he moved, the creature keeled over, a dagger buried to its hilt in the thing’s neck. The other monsters considered this, then two—there were near to ten counting the dead one—whirled about.
A white steed, wings spread wide, galloped from the blackness of the plains beyond. Anariel crouched perfectly balanced atop her back, but she held no swords in her hands. Instead, from that invisible bag of tricks she always seemed to carry, a silver bracelet formed on her wrist similar to the one she had given to Jezryn. She snatched it off and flicked it forward, the metal elongating into a dagger. It whistled through the air as she threw it, flipping end over end. One of the two orcs could only watch, mesmerized by the dancing lights that he saw within the magical blade, and he was still seeing stars when the dagger hit him in the heart.
His companion looked to the fallen orc, looked back to the charging Anariel, then turned on his heel and ran. Had he paid a bit more attention, he would have seen the pike of the first orc twitch on the ground. As he stumbled past, the business end of the weapon jerked into the air by some unseen force, and the creature had no time to stop before he skewered himself on the tip.
Anariel flicked her finger, and the pike ripped away from the dying orc and into her waiting hands. She twirled it, wind rushing about the weapon and issuing a low hum, then she raised it over her head and threw it into the center of the ring surrounding Jezryn.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The pike sliced through the air, point spinning in tight, circular motions. Anariel had taken out three of the beasts so fast, that even as the third orc was falling to the ground, skewered by the pike of the first, the long-shafted weapon landed deep into the ground next to Jezryn’s foot.
Impressive, the shade elf thought as he watched Anariel gallop away. He smiled slightly, then tore the pike from the ground and spun it in a circle to get it in position. To his dismay, he felt the slight hesitation in his left hand as he moved, but he dismissed the distracting thoughts immediately, focusing on the task at hand.
One goblin—a scrawny, hook-nosed creature—howled and shook his poorly-constructed weapon, then charged forward. Jezryn spun the pike again, moving it to the side and front of his body. The dizzying display halted the goblin for just a moment, but that was all the time Jezryn needed. Not even breaking his rhythmic spin, he spun himself along with the momentum of the pike, kicked out, and sent the goblin sprawling into the dirt to have its head connect with a rock. He moved to finish it, but two orcs bowled into him, hoping to smash the slender shade elf with their combined weight.
Jezryn felt their powerful arms reach for him, felt their hot breath hit his face, and the former General simply dropped to the ground. The first orc stumbled over the fallen Jezryn, while the second stopped completely and glanced around for a moment before he found the shade elf again.
The first orc stumbled on, trying to catch himself without falling. Jezryn ignored this one and leaped to his feet in the second’s moment of confusion. He jabbed the butt end of the pike into the creature’s rather large gut, then, almost in the same movement, brought it up and slammed the end into his lower jaw. The orc’s eyes crossed and he stared at Jezryn with a confused expression as he stood their, blinking stupidly.
Jezryn grinned, then touched a single finger to its forehead and pushed gently. The orc complied with the slight pressure and toppled over.
The orc that had tripped looked to his fallen companion and howled in rage.
“Is that all you can say?” Jezryn mocked, spinning the pike to accentuate his words. He spun it again a moment later to experiment with his hand, but it did nothing to decrease the stiffness he felt.
“Kills yous I will,” the orc hissed, spitting on the ground in his disgust. He lowered himself slightly to the ground, coming in at the shade elf in a slow, half-circle. Jezryn smiled. This orc was smarter—whatever degree of smartness an orc has at all—than his companion. Jezryn followed suit, moving in the opposite direction of the monster, but in the same invisible circle they had formed. He glanced at the unconscious orc, measured how many paces it would take his opponent to reach him, then waited, patiently circling. A sharp whistle issued from his lips as the orc reached the desired position, and—as Jezryn had anticipated—the creature saw it as his attack. A crooked yellow tooth moved up onto its lip as its mouth turned up in a snarl, then it raised its weapons—a short sword and a dirk—and charged.
Stupid, Jezryn thought, then flipped the pike up over his head and threw it. A piglike squeal issued from the orc as he saw the weapon coming, and he tripped over his own feet as he spun around. The pike whistled through the air and buried itself deep into the orc’s back, the end coming out the other side. The orc stood for a moment, his back to Jezryn so the shade elf could not see its confused expression, then toppled over in the exact direction the former General had wanted. It landed atop its companion and the protruding pike found a second victim.
Jezryn drew his kopis and twisted dagger, flexing his hand around the pommel. As he passed by, the shade elf absently stabbed the unconscious hook-nosed goblin that had attacked him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Anariel glanced over her shoulder as Asrai galloped away, and a smile turned up the corners of her mouth when the remaining four creatures—two goblins and two orcs—stared at the shade elf General as he slowly walked toward them, then scrambled away, coming after her. She was easier prey, so they thought.
“How wrong they are,” she whispered to the pegasus. Asrai gave a high-pitched whinny in agreement, then wheeled around, dirt flying away from her pounding hooves as she came to a stop, facing the charging mob atop a small hill. The fiery elf leaped from her back, landing lightly on her feet, then—for she still had not drawn her swords—flipped back her black cloak to reveal the black, pegasus-winged hilts of her magical weapons.
She stood calmly next to Asrai— her elbows resting comfortably on the hilts—watching the orcs and goblins charge recklessly toward her. “Well, girl,” she said, glancing up at the pegasus. “Do your thing.”
Asrai let out another piercing whinny, rising up and pawing the air. She shook her head, her silky white mane flying from one side of her muscled neck to the other, then came down on all fours and bolted. The rolling hills of the plains soon had her out of sight as she reached the bottom of the slight knoll, and the monsters were completely taken by surprise when the great pegasus came pounding up the other side. Asrai reared up on her hind legs and spread her great wings. The two orcs stared, jaws hanging open, then burst into action, barely scrambling out of the way of her slashing hooves. The pegasus flattened her delicate ears against her refined, wedge-shaped head and snapped her teeth at a flying cloak of one of the goblins.
One of the orcs—after recovering from his initial shock—lifted his axe and slapped it into his opposite hand. He lowered himself into the tall grass and crept around to the back of the kicking, biting pegasus. Slowly he lifted his axe, raising it high above his head. A stick cracked under his boot.
The pegasus wheeled about, dirt and golden grass flying high into the sky, and the orc let out a scream as flashing teeth clamped down on the back of his jerkin. Great white feathered wings shot straight into the air high above the sculpted head of the pegasus as Asrai lifted the impertinent orc from the ground. The thing struggled to get away, feet kicking desperately as he flailed, but the pegasus’s wings drove down. Air rushed up under him from the beat of the wings, and the orc’s entire body flew up, so that for just a moment he was hanging upside down, staring into the chocolate brown eyes of an insulted Asrai. The pegasus gave a gleeful snort, then drove her wings down again, leaping into the sky. The orc screamed and kicked, but Asrai refused to let go. Higher and higher she climbed—solely for the purpose of terrifying the poor creature—then banked to the left and dove downward, promptly dropping the orc from her mouth and letting him fall the ten feet to the ground where he landed with a heavy thud next to Anariel Anastil.
“Well done for making their charge easier,” Anariel called up to the pegasus. She dipped into a low bow, making a great flourish with her hand, then spun on her heel to the orc who was just picking himself up from the dirt. Against all odds, the thing had held onto his axe. Spitting grass and dirt, the orc got to his hands and knees.
“Rolling in the mud are we,” Anariel asked, leaning down to get a better look at him. “Not a very good idea when a bit of a row is going on. One that you started, I should mention.”
The orc snarled and rolled onto his back. Pushing himself up onto his shoulders, the creature lunged forward, throwing himself to his feet. He spun around and slapped the axe into his open palm, grinning evilly. “Kills yous I will,” he spat. Anariel grinned and opened her mouth to say something, but a terrified, piglike shriek echoed from overhead, and the elf jumped back as a goblin fell from the sky, crashing onto the orc’s head and bringing him promptly back to the dirt.
Anariel burst out laughing and saluted Asrai as she wheeled about above, chasing after the remaining goblin and orc who were fleeing for the trees. She raised an eyebrow, noting their direction, and she privately wondered what they would think of the Ewgnu Adnan—The Spider Web Swamp.
Anariel whirled about as a snarl issued from behind her, swords coming from their sheaths for the first time that night and weaving in wide, arcing circles as she locked gazes with the charging, axe-wielding orc. She circled halfway, but did not give ground. She moved to intercept his charge, but yet another piglike squeal forced her to fling one sword over her head and against her back, parrying a sideways chop aimed for her birdlike neck. Rolling with the momentum of her block, Anariel spun even as sword clanged against sword, bringing her other weapon down low.
The goblin stumbled back as the heat of white magical flames brushed by his spindly legs. Anariel flashed a grin, then leaped completely over the goblin in a somersault, landing gracefully as the bellowing fool of an orc crashed headlong into his companion.
“Allow me to help you up gentlemen,” she said brightly, then before either orc or goblin could respond, she flicked her fingers. The orc jerked awkwardly and stumbled to his feet, followed quickly by the goblin, who fell into his arms to get his balance.
“Aw, look at that,” Anariel commented with a giggle, skipping back a few more steps. “Hugging is a great way to express yourselves.”
The orc seemed completely confused, but the slightly smarter goblin—though both had the brain power of a stick in Anariel’s opinion—understood enough to know it had been some sort of insult, and he raised his short sword threateningly.
“Oh, now do not do that,” Anariel said with a dramatic sigh, then she casually flicked a finger. The goblin jerked back, stumbling helplessly, then spun back toward his companion. “Shall we go for a little roll?” Anariel asked, then moved that same index finger in a circular motion.
The goblin fell atop the falling orc, but both could not get back up. Instead, they both experienced a curious sensation as some magical energy surrounded them, switching the two’s positions: the goblin on his back with the orc on top. Before they had time to react, the same thing happened again—and again—as they literally rolled down the hill. Anariel trotted calmly next to them as she glanced around curiously for a place to dump them. Her emerald green eyes found a small pond over the next hill. Her index finger constantly spinning to roll the orcs along, she looked over at the tree line marking the Ewgnu Adnan and watched as Jezryn plunged his sword deep into the chest of the remaining orc—his companion already down in the dirt with a triumphant pegasus standing over him. She waved when he turned, then grinned widely when she saw him jerk back in surprise before letting his sword and dagger droop in his grasp.
I suppose it would be a little strange to see an “orc ball,” she thought as she approached the banks of the pond.
The fiery elf couldn’t help but giggle, then flicked her finger sharply up. Goblin and orc shot into the air, assorted screams and curses streaming from them immediately. Anariel motioned with her hand, and the two slowly moved to hover helplessly over the center of the water. Anariel spread wide her fingers and raised her hand near her face. “I will let you down if you surrender,” she called up to them, grinning at the hidden meaning in that statement. “It all depends on the placement, I think.”
Suddenly, in a blur of motion, the goblin’s hand snapped down to his boot, and Anariel barely had time to blink before a concealed dagger was spinning toward her. She dodged to the side, raising her other hand to stop it, but she was a second too late. The weapon hissed through the air, and time seemed to slow as the elf turned, the blade slicing across her cheek before landing with a dull thud in the grass.
“Ugh, ow,” Anariel muttered, putting her free hand over the cut. Her healing light pricked at her fingers like a tiny shock of electricity, and tiny flecks of light flitted down her face, gradually stitching together the skin. The elf winced as the light flashed, completing its work, then turned her attention back to the floating goblin and orc.
“You missed,” she called up to the spindly creature.
“Nots completely, stupid elfs,” he snarled. “Yous should be more carefuls.”
Anariel smirked, concealing her deep embarrassment. The creature was right, but her cheeks were flushing as red as her hair at the knowledge. To have a goblin scold her on proper etiquette during a battle! “I am still alive, and you are still in the air, so who do you think has the advantage?” Her smirk widened. “Also, you are out of luck. Throwing a dagger is a great trick, but…unless you can call it back, you are stuck with no weapon.”
The goblin spat into the water and shouted something in its own language. Anariel shook her head and made a “tsking” sound. “So rude.” The elf’s hand snapped shut into a fist, and the magical energy holding the orc and goblin aloft disappeared. A scream issued from both of them for their entire descent until they hit the water, a small wave rising into the air before crashing back down.
Anariel doubled over in laughter, unable to contain herself at the horrified and confused expressions as they came up sputtering and yelling.
“Anariel, get them now!” Jezryn shouted, and Anariel realized how close he suddenly was. Quickly, she straightened as he rushed past, catching onto the back of his cloak and spinning him around.
Jezryn stopped and lowered his sword and dagger for a moment. “What? I must admit, you were impressive. Now finish them off.”
Anariel shook her head, then grabbed him again when he tried to turn. “No,” she said. “The Eternal Light says it is wrong to kill.”
Jezryn frowned. “You killed the others,” he pointed out.
Anariel nodded, conceding the point. “Yes, but that was out of necessity and defense. They were armed and perfectly capable of defending themselves. If I had not acted they would have killed you, for you had no time to draw your weapons, hence the pike I gave you.” She nodded to the scrambling orc and goblin, still trying to get out of the water. “They are not able to defend themselves. It would be murder—they are helpless,” Anariel said gently, knowing he had been told the exact opposite by all he had ever cared for. “What lies in our power do to, lies in our power not to do. Aristotle’s words to live by.”
“If you do not destroy your enemy and simply remove their power, they will eventually regain it and destroy you for your weakness,” Jezryn argued, the ultimate rule of the Order of the Dragon. “Leave no one alive.”
Anariel shook her head sadly. “Are they the enemy?” she asked.
Jezryn sighed. “They attacked us,” he said, his tone slightly demeaning since she had forced him to state the obvious. Of course they are the enemy, fool.
“True, but think of the cause. Vanima’s rule is forever tight, but I fear it has worsened because I have come back into her life. Food is scarce to those who live in a band out in the wild like they do, and we demonstrate great wealth with our two horses and well-kept clothes.” Anariel cocked her head and studied his reaction. “Orcs and goblins are not the scum of Orosta like people think they are.” She hesitated, and a teasing glint came into her eyes. “No matter how much it might appear so,” she added dryly, wrinkling her nose in reference to their less than savory smell.
Jezryn frowned and looked back to the orc and goblin floundering about in the water. The goblin finally caught a claw on the slippery bank and began to pull himself up, but the orc, seeing his companion’s success, grabbed onto his belt. The bank broke away and both fell back into the water. A few choice curses were exchanged as Jezryn turned a skeptical expression on Anariel.
“The orc has a little girl,” Anariel continued, “and the goblin a wife. There is a fine line between necessity and murder in this primitive world Vanima has created, and one must be careful when walking that line.” She took a step forward and came to a stop next to Jezryn, watching as the soaking companions finally extracted themselves from the lake and darted off into the trees.
“It takes time to know the difference, and even then you are not always sure. Could there have been another way? Who will care when the face one searches for does not return? One might question the skills of the two combatants. If you so heavily outclass your opponent, is it still murder?” Anariel hesitated, then gently reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The shade elf slowly turned his head to look at her, a frown on his face. Anariel stared into his royal-blue eyes, flecks of teal sprinkled throughout the orbs, and she saw a mixture of defiance and anger, but also confusion and the slightest bit of guilt she knew he did not want her to notice.
He couldn’t help wondering of the countless others before.
“We cannot change the past,” she said quietly, turning away and wiping a sword on her cloak. “But we can learn from our mistakes to better the future. This shows our true character.”
Jezryn looked in the direction the creatures had run, then back to the fiery elf. She lifted a hand to her mouth and whistled loudly. An answering whinny echoed back, and the white pegasus soon was visible, gliding gracefully through the air.
Jezryn debated with himself for a moment about what she had said, then shook his head and snorted. “What of Vanima? All this trouble you say she caused, but were you the one who let her go because of this so-called mercy?” he asked, and he watched Anariel stiffen. Her stare was ice itself as she turned to look at him, and Jezryn knew immediately that he had pointed out the very flaw she was poignantly aware of. She shook her head once sharply—more like a jerk of irritation—then looked back to the pegasus as the landed lightly on the ground and bounced happily toward them, long golden grass swishing away from her delicate legs as she trotted.
“We can learn from out mistakes to better the future,” she repeated softly, then pulled herself up onto Asrai’s broad back.
Jezryn didn’t say anything, but he finished that statement in his mind. I should have killed her 150 years ago. He jumped as a soft, velvet nose nudged into his back, and the shade elf turned to see Cheval waiting for him to mount.
“Coward,” he muttered under his breath, softly so the black stallion would not hear. He knew upsetting the powerful kelpie was more stupid than letting those vermin escape.
Jezryn smirked as he mounted the black stallion. Not killing helpless enemies. It is a noble idea, at least, he thought.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“It was eleven minutes,” Ilitha said. “I win.”
“You said ten,” Balâg protested. “No one wins.”
“I am rounding down,” the shade elf retorted. “Hand it over.”
Balâg sighed and rolled his eyes. He reached down into his pocket and pulled out a sack of money—his most recent paycheck. Grudgingly, he gave it to Ilitha, and the shade elf laughed excitedly.
“Here they come,” Balâg said a moment later, and the two elves ducked down beneath the grass as the kelpie and pegasus jogged past. Ilitha couldn’t help but admire the rippling muscles on both mounts, and she could only imagine what it felt like to sit on one of their backs. Her admiration for the kelpie increased even more when, at the last second, Cheval flicked his tail at a passing fly. Water flew away from the constantly dripping beast, splashing Balâg on the top of the head. The shade elf bit his lip to keep from yelling at the cold, and Ilitha fought to restrain her laughter until they were out of earshot.
She giggled quietly as Balâg shook his head to get rid of the water, muttering assorted curses under his breath.
“We can return to Athelion now,” Ilitha said, and Balâg looked at her immediately.
He hesitated, then asked, “Would she really…let us go?”
Ilitha shrugged. “It is possible,” she replied truthfully. That is, if you consider death a release, she added in her mind. A frown unexpectedly came onto her face as a strange emotion leaped forward in her mind at her harsh thought. Death. That word suddenly seemed to have the weight of a dragon on her heart.
Balâg slowly got to his feet, a nervous, yet determined expression on his face. “We need a mirror,” he said, changing the subject.
Ilitha watched him start walking, faintly hearing him say that there was a village close by. Now that they were truly finished, the other part of the plan—Balâg taking the fall for breaking the law part—came into play. The shade elf rose to her feet and followed him, wondering why she was suddenly having second thoughts. She had gone through the entire mission and felt nothing—no regret for her betrayal, and no sympathy.
She was facing the idea head on now, and she knew the idea would come to fruition in an hour or more. It made her stop and think.
Do I really want him dead?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ssa gradually stirred herself; she had not moved through the entire incident, despite the ruckus the orcs and goblins had caused. Her coils curved into an S shape as she slowly slithered forward, shaking off the grogginess of her nap. She did not look forward to the pain that she was about to induce on herself, but it was time to contact her mistress.
Her spine suddenly snapped as she brought the image of the black-haired human into her mind, and the snake reared her head in a silent scream agony as she began to shift.
1. Shiskik ilthinian—Little princess
3, Utulia fira bao nila—Water will not clingThe shade elf fingered one of the longer spikes in his hair as he smiled at the thought, noting the white slowly darkening to a light brown. “I need to dye it again,” he commented. “I have had it white for so many years, I would look strange to myself in the mirror. What do you think, Ilitha?”
|The Order of the Dragon Chapter I||The Order of the Dragon Chapter G|
|Behind the Mask||Riddle, Riddle, Chant, and Rhyme|
|The Elven Outcast|