The stranger stared at the bandit, or seemed to. I could somewhat see hir eyes peek through the shadows of the hood. They were a deep violet and very odd but I couldn’t quite place how. “I have no desire to repeat myself, especially to someone who lacks the intelligence to comprehend my words.”
The bandit roared and charged forward. The stranger stuck out hir palms. The wind changed. Currents gathered around the stranger and released. A gust of wind threw the bandit into a tree. He dropped his blade when he hit. The wind swirled around the bandit. Cuts appeared all over his body. It was the wind itself; it was tearing the flesh from his body!
I took advantage of the distraction by kicking backward and hit the bandit who was holding my arms in the knee. He let go for a moment and I jabbed my knife into his gut.
I retrieved my knives and looked at the tree. The bandit was hardly recognizable. Large portions of his flesh and entrails had dropped around the tree in small fragments. The tree itself was scratched but it would survive. A very brutal spell indeed, but clearly controlled. I could hear predators moving in the forest, undoubtedly attracted to the scent.
The stranger was turning to go. “Hold on for a moment!”
Sie turned to face me. I couldn’t tell what hir expression was. The shadows hid hir well. “Thank you, for aiding me. Are you on your way to Het Wald or just passing through the forest?” I was hoping that sie was just passing through and I could travel with hir.
Before sie could answer the distant sound of hooves became a thunderous roar. I pulled my hood back up and tightened my cloak. I recognized the rider. It was Lofu of the palace guard. He was a veteran who had served our household for seventy years. His golden eyes were said to never miss anything.
He stopped in front of us. I looked away from him. “Halt good travellers! there has clearly been trouble. Tell me, what happened here?”
The stranger answered. “These bandits attacked, what happened afterwards was done purely in defence.”
“Well, no matter. I’m here on a more urgent matter. Have you seen a young female elf? She has long blonde hair, very light. Eyes the colour of an evergreen in spring. She’s about a hundred eighty centimetres tall and weighs about sixty six kilos.”
“I have not seen anyone that matches that description. If I do I will find a way to contact you.”
“See that you do, it’s important to the Royal One that she is found.” Lofu rode away after he had finished speaking. Taking his entourage in tow.
I nodded to the stranger. “Thank you for not giving me away.”
“There was nothing to give away. You are a hundred seventy six centimetres tall. That does not follow his description; ergo he can not be searching for you.” Sie sighed. “Still if you wish to hide your identity you should try walking stooped, and do not hold your cloak so closely, lest you betray your desire to remain hidden.”
It struck me then that this stranger knew all about hiding. Although sie wasn’t hiding hir height. Hir posture was flawless. So maybe the person or persons that sie was hiding from didn’t know what sie looked like. But then why go to so much trouble to hide hir face? I didn’t ask about it though. “You seem to know a thing or two about hiding.” I half-expected hir to move backwards, or give some other indication of shock but sie remained motionless. “Do you know why Lofu didn’t look at me more closely?”
“Seeing us together, he assumed that we are travelling companions. Someone seeking an individual will frequently ignore groups.” Sie turned around. “Now if you will excuse me I must be going.”
“Wait!” I called. Sie paused. I held out a hand to hir. “I’m Lynai. What’s your name?”
“I am Michael Ryufan.” So, the stranger was a man. He didn’t move to take my hand and hurried away. Not exactly the soul of etiquette, was he? I followed him.
Luc was studying a magic text that she had brought with her. She was sitting on the grass under Ulther, the Elivy family home. Supposedly the spells that you could harness using these techniques were the most devastating that could be cast by a mortal. The further Luc delved into the text the more sceptical she became of that claim.
For one thing, the text wasn’t old enough. The pages had barely yellowed. When this had been written the magical renaissance had been over for at least a century. All of the greatest techniques had been developed or refined during that time. The idea that anyone could improve on them was questionable. There was also an issue of the techniques themselves. One suggested lighting a hallucinogen and inhaling it until you could communicate with the physical manifestation of your inner element. Another suggested surviving a near-death experience by absorbing energy from your familiar. Luc closed the book.
Suddenly, a pair of hands covered her eyes. Luc sighed, “Hello, Lais.”
The pair of hands moved away and Lais sat down next to Luc. “Did you use magic to figure out that it was me?”
Luc raised one eyebrow. “Of course not. You’re just the only person I know who would do something so … uncouth.”
Lais giggled. “It’s just my way of saying hello to my favourite sibling.”
Luc rose. “I’m your only sibling, and shouldn’t you be looking for the royal daughter?”
Lais leaned against Ulther’s trunk. “The trouble with the trolls is too bad. Most of the guards are staying in the main cityscape. A few have been sent to the outlying areas to prepare for a possible evacuation. A very small group has been sent to find Lynai.”
Luc sat back down. “The Royal One doesn’t trust you?”
Lais put her head on Luc’s shoulder. “He thinks that I’m too friendly with his daughter and that I might be persuaded to let her pass me unchallenged.”
Luc scowled. “You would never do such a thing.”
Lais smiled lightly. “I wouldn’t, but I would be tempted. Is it okay for you to be away from the academy?”
“Of course, my first duty is to Het Wald. I left Illyana in charge.”
Lais chuckled. “Your human daughter, huh?”
Luc’s cheeks reddened. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s just the thought of you raising a child.”
“I had no choice. Her parents gave her to the academy when she was an infant, as the headmistress it was my duty to look after her.”
Lais nudged Luc with her elbow. “You enjoyed it though, right?”
Luc shrugged. “Illyana has always been a wonderful young lady.”
Lais’s smile widened. “You big softie.”
“At least I don’t let myself be seduced by women a third my age,” Luc said.
“you might be happier if you did,” Lais countered. “Take Inés. She’s a very lovely girl and she would have gladly shared some… quality time with you.”
“Perhaps,” Luc said. “But she’s also my student and far too young.”
“Former student,” Lais said. “And she’s completely of age.” She grinned at her sister. “Just don’t expect me to share her with you.”
“I wouldn’t ask that of you or her,” Luc said. “Don’t worry.”