Plesz, The Grand Navigators…
“You two have an interesting relationship, you and Ruili,” she commented to Lancewing, deciding that she had to do something now that the play was over and they couldn’t leave for their own safety.
“I beg your pardon?”
Osrel Lancewing, playwright of Plesz, renowned for his grand historical epics, started at Y’lanna Sparti in disbelief. It was not the color of her, or her strangely crenellated, bald scalp, or the fact that she was one of the more exotic beings to come through the funnel-tunnels of the Vortex Zone that took him aback so. It was her calm, chatty manner after the horrifying spectacle of terror and death they had just witnessed.
“By the gods, lady, you are a cool one, are you not?”
But her calm seemed to calm his nerves in turn. The crisis seemed to have passed, and the Half Moon Theater, so quickly crowded with those seeking shelter, was beginning to empty out. Lancewing felt his fright draining away, replaced with a sense of relief and the start of a smile as he gazed at Y’lanna’s frank and open face. Lyr and Mana, he thought, alien creature she may be, but a fine, fair pretty one, at that.
The smile completed itself as he remembered Lord Windwolf saying something about looking after her.
“What’s that you say? An interesting relationship? Why, lady, it is the stuff of legends. I will gladly tell you of it. Let us leave this place and go somewhere more conducive — I mean, more comfortable. What say you, shall we toast our lucky escape and the bravery of our protectors?”
He extended a scarlet-sleeved arm for her to take, hoping very much that she would.
— — —
The night around Ruili Windwolf awakened in torchlight and whistling. A marine was kneeling over him.
“Milord, are you hurt?”
“Ugh,” he groaned, “you tell me. Gods.”
He sat up, cursing at the stabbing pain in his shoulder and the throb in his head and jaw, but in the torchlight he saw no arrows piercing him and except for a few burning lacerations, he guessed the blood wetting his fine new waistcoat was probably not his. The soldier helping him up seemed to concur.
“Where is the beast?”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone? Where did it go?”
“I never saw it, milord.”
All around, marines and guardians were moving through the woods in a search pattern, whistling signals from all points. One of the guardian that had fought with Ruili stepped up.
“It vanished, milord. Vanished like a wish before our eyes.”
“Truly? Well, that’s interesting.”
Wincing, Ruili eased his hand between the buttons of his waistcoat to support his strained arm like a sling. Nearby lay the man he had collided with, one marine kneeling beside him and two others pointing their lances at him. Ruili was able to get his first real look — a dark-faced, black-haired fellow lying prone on a black great-cloak, his head slick with blood where Ruili had bludgeoned him.
“Alive, sir, but insensible,” said the marine going through the man’s pockets for his papers and effects. “An elf of the Dark Tribes.”
“So it would appear. Has he a passport?”
The marine slipped his hand inside the dark elf’s vest and pulled out a stiff card. It was not a passport, and as the soldier looked at it, he seemed to freeze, transfixed.
“What’s that?” said Ruili. He waited for a response. “Soldier, what is that?”
The warrior shuddered. He handed the card up to Ruili. “I don’t know, sir, but I don’t like it.”
Ruili felt the aura before he touched it, a familiar, unwelcome chill that shot through his skin and flesh, his blood and his bones. He knew the answer to his question. Tipping the card into the torchlight, he saw on its face the image of the monster they had fought, a large red droplet, and the rank of a court card.
The Queen of Blood.
“So it’s true, what Father said,” Ruili said, “It’s come back to haunt us.”
“Fetch me a wizard,” he snapped at all about him. “Quickly now.”