The journey back to Starrydale was much more lenient, but that didn't make me like it. I was impatient to get started. Elthinor was busy talking with several Elves, trying to find out the latest news on what seemed like everything and introducing them to Jaiden. Valtrak, Gabrithon, and Pinnathir were all staying close together; we were getting funny looks. Pinnathir was now the only Satyr with us. We had done what Jesiah had suggested and sent Laetitia with her father and the other Satyrs, with much instruction from all of us, to represent our side of the argument. I trusted that Jesiah knew what he was doing; it was all I could do. Pinnathir suddenly lurched and slammed into me, making me gasp.
"Sorry," he said quickly and righted himself. "I either tripped over one of my hooves, or somebody else was being mean," he muttered, sounding embarrassed.
I heard snickers behind me and turned to glare at the Elves responsible. They were young, somewhere right above twenty, and they outright laughed at my glare.
"Come now, we're only teasing him," one said.
"Don't," I said angrily. "How would you like to be a single Elf among thousands of Satyrs?"
That shut them up. "I wouldn't like it at all," the same one said.
"Then stop teasing him," I said, then faced forward again.
"Wow. I've never heard a girl talk like that before," one of them whispered.
"Do you think she's in charge?" another one asked.
"Who'd want to follow her?"
Pinnathir jerked around and grabbed the Elf suddenly, making him yell. Every Elf around them had their hands on the hilts of their swords immediately.
"Shut up. She can hear you, you know," Pinnathir said sharply.
"She can?" an older Elf asked. "I thought Humans had extremely poor hearing, when compared to Elves."
"I'm not just a Human," I said irritably. "I am half-Elf, too."
"That is physically imp—"
"I know it is impossible!" I snapped. "I wish everybody would quit saying that! I happened, therefore it evidently wasn't entirely impossible, and I believe God intervened and made it possible for a reason I still don't understand."
With that, I turned around and strode off. Pinnathir caught up with me easily, bounding over in two leaps. Gabrithon and Valtrak had been waiting for us, and they fell into step beside us. We refused to talk to anybody else until the wall was in sight. I was hailed by the Elf king, and he began to walk with us.
"You and your friends are coming into the palace, yes?" he asked.
Pinnathir and Valtrak were already nodding their heads, but I replied differently. "No. We will not."
"What? Does my palace offend you?"
"In a way, yes it does. Gabrithon cannot fit through the doors, and, even if he could, he and Pinnathir would slip and slide over the floor. It's polished stone."
"Oh dear. I didn't think of that," Lolaiken said. "Was that a problem the first time you came here?"
I briefly explained the rope incident and Lolaiken looked aghast.
"How dare they?" he demanded. "That was un-Elf-like behavior, Filynora, and I apologize profusely."
"They won't be trying it again," Gabrithon said darkly, rubbing his neck. "I think Filynora scared the will to do it again right out of them."
The king studied me for a moment. "Interesting. Now, if you'll pardon me, I must go and prepare for your arrival. I would like you to have a proper reception. I don't know where you will stay, but I'll certainly try to find a place."
"You don't have to do that," I said quickly. "We'll just sleep in our tents."
"Nonsense," he said, waving his hand then moved to leave.
I grabbed his arm. "Wait. I have a request."
"Other than some of the most priceless artifacts we have?" Lolaiken teased. "What is that?"
"An Elven town was recently attacked. Ellavendir is its name. It was leveled to the ground. Are there any survivors?"
"Yes. Many survivors, in fact. Why do you ask?"
"Elthinor's family lived there. Gilronin, Selaniam, and Melanari. Do you think you can find them for me? It would make Elthinor happy, too."
He smiled kindly. "Well if it means so much to you, then I'll certainly look into it."
"Thank you," I said then released his arm.
He hurried away, and about ten minutes later, the entire crowd almost came to a standstill. They had to file in through that gate, which pretty wide, but there were over five thousand of us. It was going to take a while.
When we finally got into the city, the soldiers were milling about as they made their way to their quarters. I walked the path that the Elven guards had taken us on that led to the palace, my friends following, and when we arrived, we began to slowly make our way through the square. Elves were bustling about so our going was in fits of starts and stops. After we had gotten across, we left Pinnathir and Gabrithon there then headed up the stairs only to be met with glares from the noble Elves. We moved past them only to be stopped by the guards.
"Who let you in?" one of them asked.
"We let ourselves in," I said blandly.
"Hail, my good guards," Elthinor exclaimed, jumping in front of me and digging in his bag. "We come to see the king over an urgent matter of war. We come in the stead of Aloron Cyzaen."
"Aloron?" the older guard asked. "I know him. Do you have any proof?"
Elthinor finally managed to get the carving out of his bag and unwrapped it carefully. When the guard reached for it, my friend pulled it back.
"Ah, ah, ah!" he said. "I know that trick."
The old Elf chuckled. "I wasn't trying to steal it. I'm trying to see what kind of wood it is."
Elthinor held it closer to him and let the guard run his fingers over it. "Cherry wood. That's Aloron's all right. He was gifted this by the king, and it is Zyronicol's work. Who are you in relation to him?"
"I am his grandson," Elthinor said with a smile.
"Really? You didn't get either one of his colors. Now, I'm sorry to do this, but you have strangers with you. I don't think I could let them in."
Elthinor spun to face me. "Filynora, please behave while I'm in there."
I gave him my usual stare, and he dropped his face into one of his hands, sighing heavily. With that, the guards let him pass. We stood out there silently, sometimes straining to see what was going on. Two hours passed and we began shifting often; after walking for as long as we had, our feet were used to it, but we were still tired. Another half an hour later I began to wander around the room. The Elves were, to put it kindly, snobby around me. I paused at a hallway and saw a flash of movement. After hesitating for a moment, I brought my designs to the surface, gestured to my friends to stay there (Valtrak looked exasperated, but shooed me along with his hand) then I hurried down the hall. I turned the corner and saw a shadow going across the wall down the hall.
I haphazardly followed the shadow, mainly just exploring for a little while, but was in no real hurry. I passed open doorways and glanced in to see what I assumed were servants doing various things, like cleaning or talking. I had just gone by one doorway, noticing two Elves in heated conversation, and was almost around the corner when somebody called.
"You! Girl! Come back here!" said a familiar sounding voice.
I backtracked and peeked into the door. The room was spacious, with a plush looking bed in the corner covered in a blue blanket with red roses spattered here and there. The floor was polished black stone covered in a rug of what looked like bear skin, and not Elemental; I had never seen a natural bear before. There was a small table beside the bed and a doorway off to the side that went into what looked like a small room. Standing in the middle of this room were Lochanor and Lolaiken.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Son, I already know that Filynora beat you," the king said exasperatedly. "She told me she did."
"No I didn't," I argued. "Elthinor did."
"Ah, yes, my mistake. I have been trying to find you accommodations. Then I ran into my son and we were having a, ahem, personal talk."
"The Elf boy told on me?" Lochanor growled, bringing his fist against his palm.
I pulled my sword and pointed it at him. "Take any thoughts of revenge or hurting him out of your mind. Now."
I saw him swallow hard, and he backed away. The king, who was standing just to the side of me, placed his hand on the flat of the blade and pressed down. I lowered it then, at a severe look from the king, sheathed it.
"Please refrain from acting that way in my presence. I understand that you are young, but I expect you to be mature, especially with you bringing this call to war to me," he said.
I was shocked. I had never had a male get on to me, not in that manner. It was almost…fatherly. But I had a father.
"Sorry," I said blankly, unsure of what to feel.
"Apology accepted. Now, what were you doing roaming through my halls?"
"I didn't expect to find you, if that's what you implying. I was bored and exploring."
"Hm. Mind explaining something for me?" Lolaiken asked thoughtfully.
"Depends on what it is," I answered honestly.
"Why, or how, do you look like an Elf?"
"My father is an Elf. My mother was a Human," I replied with a shrug. "And please don't say that it's impossible. Everybody does, but I'm here, aren't I?"
"You are certainly the most interesting individual I have ever met," the king said solemnly. "One more question, why aren't your friends with you?"
"Elthinor was supposed to be talking to you, Pinnathir and Gabrithon are outside, and Jaiden and Valtrak are waiting with the guards."
"Your friend is supposed to be talking with me?" Lolaiken asked with a start.
"Yes. About three hours ago is when the guards let him into the throne room."
"Well, then let's go discuss this matter of war. Lochanor," he said turning to his son. "I shouldn't let you come with us, what with you impersonating me, yet again, but I have a feeling that this is something bigger than any of our wars with the Satyrs. I still cannot believe we were tricked into those wars!"
"The Dark Ones are tricky," I replied as he led us out of the room and down the hall. "Don't blame yourself."
"You are kind. But the shattered-eyes were revered as the best and brightest of our race, and were usually appointed as councilors to the king."
"They tricked you, Lolaiken," I said softly. "They're shape shifters. Tricking people is what they do. They're a bit, well, slyer than the other minions."
"Minions?" Lochanor asked as we turned a corner. "And what does this have to do with the shattered-eyes?"
I looked at his genuinely curious expression, and my dislike of him relaxed. I fell behind the king and into step with the prince but spoke to both of them.
"This is what I understand of their ranks so far. This is the order they attacked us in, and it is what seems to be their hierarchy from bottom to top. First, there are Aswangs. Do you know what they are?"
"Yes. Horrible winged women. They bite and claw, and it takes forever to heal those marks," Lochanor said.
"All right then. One rank up from them seem to be the Vampires. They all have grey skin and black hair, with glowing red eyes. And I mean, their entire eye is red. They hold either a shadow, or a memory of former glory. They have fangs, which they use to drink the blood of living creatures. They are extremely strong, like all the Dark Ones' minions. Both they and the Aswangs cannot come out in daylight. They come out only at night, or when there is heavy cloud covering.
"Next up are Naga. They are walking snakes with fangs as long as your forearm with, we assume, potent venom to match. They don't really need venom though." I paused. "Then come your shattered-eyes. They are called Rakshasa. They are shape shifters and are the most powerful so far, if not in strength—though they have grips of iron—then in subtlety and deception. After that, there are no more minions above them as far as I know. But one of the Dark Ones is, pardon me, was, called a Mngwa. He was some kind of tiger as big as a horse. He could control Elementals with his mind."
"What do you mean 'was,' Filynora?" Lolaiken asked as we walked through a doorway.
"I killed him."
"Fily!" I looked up to see that we were in the throne room, and Elthinor seemed to be playing a game with some kind of smooth wooden sticks with several guards. He stood up and hurried toward me. "What are you doing with the king?"
"I started wandering the halls and passed Lochanor's room."
"She was just telling us about these monsters you face. I believe you owe us this whole story in detail. I shall gather my council, but if you don't mind telling it twice, I'd like to hear it right now," the king said. He sat on the throne, and the flowers unfurled into full bloom.
"Well, if that's what your majesty wishes," Elthinor said then began the story again.