Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Elves of Panton

Third Tel gripped the reigns of his mount. The loose scarves that marked him as an emissary of White Bone blew around him in the strong easterly wind.

“What's wrong with the horses,” the boy asked. He yanked hard on the reigns of his Moenian steed, larger than his companion's mount; though not as large as the brown behemoths of the Orucan. The beast whuffed and stomped its hooves on the dirt road beneath them.

His Pajens companion crossed himself with the local ward of evil and spit. “This is the Silva,” the round, little man said, reigning in his round, little horse. “There are elves in these woods.”

Everything that was jovial and pleasant in Third Tel went out of him. He wondered if he would ever feel safe again. Elves! Alchemer Darrow had said nothing about elves. “Futui,” he cursed. “You lie.” Even as he said the words, though, his eyes darted around and through the surrounding trees. The Pajens at least believed what he said was true.

“No,” the elder man, Kentir said, sneering. “They don't come to the road. Not when there's decent folk about; but they leave sign.” He pointed across Tel's still unruly mount at one of the low and twisted trees. Marks were carved into the bark – a chaotic, looping kind of scripted pictograph that Tel had no hope of reading.

“What does it say,” he asked.

Kentir shrugged and spurred his horse onward. “Who knows,” he said. “Probably just 'stay the fuut out.”

Tel laughed, despite himself. He didn't have to spur the Moenian on. It followed the smaller horse on its own.

“Have you ever seen one?”

“What, an elf?” Kentir snorted. “Likely the last thing you'll see, ser. 'Les your soul gets stuck and you get to watch him eat you.”

Tel went white. He'd heard rumors that elves ate the flesh of men; but...

Kentir watched him, then burst out laughing. “I am sorry. Sore sorry, indeed. Them elves eat flesh, sure; but mostly rodents and birds and the like.” He reached across and pat the messenger on his shoulder. “I've never heard tell of anyone eaten by elves.”

It was little comfort to Tel, who had heard of whole tribes slaughtered for trespassing into elvish lands. One life, the saying went, for every twig trampled under foot. It was all rumor and conjecture, of course. No human, whether from White Bone or the Pajens or any of the lesser kingdoms had ever seen an elf and lived.

And ahead, the path curved and exited the woods, into the Ractus plains. Tel let himself breath a sigh of relief. Then a terrible thought occurred to him.

“There's another route back, yes?” He looked behind them in time to see the luminescent eyes of the Rashaim bearing silently down upon them. “I wouldn't-”

His sentence was cut off by a terrified sort of howling whimper that escaped unbidden from his throat. He was not a practised rider; he fell from his horse.

Kentir hadn't even noticed. He heard the vibratto cry of the foul beast and shouted, “ride,” whipping his horse to a gallop. Even if he had noticed Tel's horse unburdened beside him, he wouldn't be coming back without a contingent of rangers from Ager. This was the end. Tel's life was over.

The Rashaim towered over him as it approached. Rows of violet eyes traced from its tentacled head, up it's neck and over it's muscular shoulders, bordered on either side in thick, brown fur. Within those bizarre tentacles, Tel could hear the clicking of razor-sharp teeth. Something in that noise cast a spell over the young messenger.

“Alright, you hairy cania,” he growled, drawing his suddenly very small and light dagger. “Come get me!” He dropped low into the fire stance – the last resort of a cornered rat, his master had said. Aanai masters do not teach the fire stance, because the Aanai believe that you accept death with grace and a peaceful heart.

This was not the Moenian way. The White Bone did not rise from the sands of Solitu by rolling over and accepting defeat.

The rashaim paced around Tel, black claws raking the ground. It moved with feline grace, despite it's mammoth size – easily dwarfing the boy's runaway steed. Tel steeled himself for death, locking eyes with the wild monster. Dying with a weapon in your hand was the best way to die in Moenia, even if all he managed was a scratch in the thick hide of -

Casiu's Heart! Slime dripped from its open maw, coating the writhing tentacles. In response, tears stained Tel's cheeks.

“Come at me,” he shouted. Dropping lower into the water stance. Fuut this stupid beast. He gritted his teeth. It's going to try to bite, get those slimy things around his head or neck. Flow like the river. Drop prone, everything breathes. Be like the beasts. Go for the throat. He actually growled.

There was no other sound in the Silva, but the Easterly in the leaves. Tel felt cold, calm. He was young, but he'd led a good life. Now he would die a warrior. No one got to die that way anymore. Not really. Not in the city. This was a good death. He breathed a soft chuckle which triggered the Rashaim's charge.

He knew before he even began to move that it wasn't going to work. Somehow, the monster anticipated his plan; was catching him low as he fell to the ground. His dagger was going right into the rashaim's tooth-filled hole.

And then it rocked hard to the right, stumbled past him and fell to the ground.

Three tiny people-things in green and brown stood on the road, clutching the vines they'd used to throw themselves against the beast. Their strange, curved blades stuck out of a trio of eyes high on the rashaim's back. Violet puss and blood mixed together and ran into it's thick fur.
Wide eyed, Tel snapped back to the -

Oh gods.

They were inhuman. Or perhaps too human. Miniature, no taller than a man's leg (if even that), thin but strong, with chorded muscle and wild energy; but the horrible part was the mouth, that feral smile. Jagged canine teeth under keen hunter's eyes. Their oversized ears twitched and turned on their own, aimed at him and at the beast – which was stirring again behind him.

Isilwanendasonke,” one of the elves said in a growling tone. Oh gods. They talk. What did it say?

The trio of mythical beasts were circling around him, each clutching a second of those sinister, curved blades – no more than a knife, really; but menacing swords in their tiny predator's hands. For one terrifying moment, Tel was sure the Pajens hadn't been telling the truth about the elven diet; but then he heard the snarling of the rashaim and realized he was standing in between two of the most feared predators in Panton.

He didn't know what to do; but the elf had spoken to him. It wasn't much, but he clutched his knife and turned to join their advance.

The elves of Panton (the name given to the World by men), called T'sharg in their own tongue, fell to earth with the Necron and in their falling cities.

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