“Bread?” Omar eagerly hopped down from the branch above.
“Yes, an old Elvish woman gave this to me for the trip I had ahead” Robert said. “There’s plenty to share.”
He held the bag out to his subordinate. An arrow flew from his left and whisked the bag from his hand, pinning it to a tree with a vibrating twang. Robert smiled and looked at the archer, eyes wide underneath their hood.
“You have a keen sense for magic, tracker. Omar, where did you find this one?” Robert beckoned for them to come from the brush and they stepped forward with a visible pride, nearly prancing like a show horse in the Capital on Parade Day. Omar smiled wide with white teeth shining in the sun and gave a laugh. He and Robert stepped around the corpses and the small lake of blood forming around them. Flies already began to buzz upon their corpses with the greedy instinct of insects.
“This one I found following us a few years ago. An elf, actually. A criminal from the ruins of their once glorious city” Omar chuckled and clasped them on the shoulder. “He followed us for days, without any of us noticing. He has a natural skill that we made useful, and he is now a brother. One of the best. Lucky for him…” Omar squeezed him hard on his shoulders, causing the elf to wince in pain. …” he didn’t steal from us.” Omar gave a hearty chuckle and released him.
“I was… curious.” The elf spoke more softly than Robert expected. Monotone. “These men captured a Raven without his group noticing. A Raven with whom I had a personal score to settle” A small smile curled the edges of his mouth. “You were testing us, earlier. With the bread. I waited to see if anyone besides me noticed…”
“But they did not” Robert finished with a grin. The elf smiled.
“I am Landar. I have a wider skill set than most.” Robert looked to Omar approvingly.
“You did well to find this one, Omar. He will prove useful in the days to come. You have elemental magic, don’t you?” Other hooded figures stepped from the bushes, forming a circle around them with their backs to the three. Protective.
“Elemental? Landar. Why didn’t you tell us?” The elf’s eyes were wide and staring back into Robert’s piercing glare. Silence fell between them all for a moment. Omar shouted to his men:
“It’s a bruin, don’t worry about it.” They apparently sensed the creature and mistook it for… something else.
“Why didn’t you tell us, Landar?” The stare continued. Then the wind shifted, the way the wind sometimes does.
The wind pushed its way through the trees, rustling the leaves above and around the group. The smell of the forest whirled into Robert’s nose, making him nostalgic for something he couldn’t quite remember. He stared through the elf, thinking hard about why he couldn’t remember. The smell of damp leaves and an air slowly growing colder spread a strange longing within his soul. The elf mistook this for the stare of a legendarily ruthless officer of the Imperium, a stare that meant impending doom.
“Please… you must understand that it… it’s not something I… like to use. Or for others to be aware of. But you knew?” Landar was visibly shaken. As a cloud passed over the sun, draping the group in shadows, a Halharken blade appeared before the throat of the elf, held by a hooded man who appeared with the shadow’s passing. The ancient darkness within the shade of the forest trembled with lustful anticipation. More blood may come on this scene. Blood that may only begin to quench their thirst. Robert and Omar’s silence coaxed more words from the fearful elf.
“You know it drains my life, more so than other magic. I have nearly no control over it. I fear that I use… too much when I do…”
“Which element?” Robert snapped back from his daydream. He was tired, but there was so much more to do on this day.
“…Ice.” Landar whispered. Omar grinned, and waved to the silent man behind the elf. The curved steel whistled as it flew back into its scabbard. The elf breathed heavily, horrified.
“Normally we would kill you where you stand, ele-mental.” The word dripped with acid from Omar’s lips. “But you will come in handy with a mission we have in the future. Some of us may actually survive with your skill on our side.”
The elf flicked his eyes between Omar and Robert, not entirely convinced that they would let him live. Robert spoke words of reassurance.
“We really do need you. We won’t wait until you fall asleep to slit your throat as if you held the blood of the flame.” The sunlight trickled through the trees into Robert’s eyes, and he looked up. “Omar, let’s get moving back to the mountains. We have some planning to do.” As the sun danced between the leaves, glittering gold, Robert had a strange image flash into his mind’s eye. A beach, at night. Then some strange house, with green grass surrounding it. Perfect grass. He shook his head involuntarily with a odd twitch, and the images vanished. The sun still glistened between the leaves. Nostalgia again.
“Strange” He muttered to himself, and he cracked his neck. The Halharken disappeared into the forest like darting birds, and he began to walk. They could not be seen or heard, but he knew they would escort him as he walked. Invisible. He rested his hand on the pommel of his sword, feeling the design as he had always done. But somehow, this time it seemed foreign and unfamiliar. As if it was his first time feeling it. He tossed the old woman’s staff into the woods to his side and walked down the road.
The old woman hissed as she sensed him throwing the cane away. She had no way to track him now. But she had heard some of what was said between the group despite the distance. Halharken on this side of the mountain. An elf that held the Blood of the Ice. She tossed her anger aside as she scribbled furiously onto a parchment, arthritis shooting pain up her wrist. She gritted her teeth and sealed the roll with a bit of wax and a stamp. A stamp with the image of a raven holding one snake in its mouth and another in its claw as the two serpents twisted around its body trying to strangle it.