The sun had just disappeared behind the distant mountains when Aarik, Tyrone, and Echo finally dragged themselves into the darkened streets of Yeher. Hunger plagued their stomachs, as sleep did their eyes, causing both spirits and energy to be low.
Any provisions that they had managed to gather before leaving Lioshina had been consumed in the long, three-day travel to the city, leaving them with nothing but their angered stomachs.
As they stepped out onto the rutted streets, anxiousness to arrive at where they would be able to sleep and eat suddenly engulfed them. Their eyes, normally clear in the darkness, were starting to become fogged with sleep deprivation, and their normally upright and proud shoulders sagged.
Mud-encrusted calves were burning, protesting strongly against every step they took as they forced themselves down the empty streets. Heavy cloaks, smeared in speckles of dirt from the forest, dragged them down, making the walk through the city seem impossibly long.
The two moons had almost risen to their positions in the sky when Aarik finally spotted a hotel with vacancies.
"There," he announced, relieved. The two guards followed his gaze, and upon seeing the wooden amenity posted in the window, drew their hoods closer to hide all elfin features.
The three glided quickly toward the wooden sidewalk across the street, stepping up to the rough-cut door. Tyrone moved forward and pushed it open, allowing the other two to enter ahead of him, before he stepped past the threshold and into the small lobby; the door closed behind him with a soft thud.
Once within, a warm gush of air greeted their flushed cheeks, as did the strong scent of cornbread and thick soup. Their stomachs growled painfully as they heard dishes clinking in the restaurant beside where they stood.
A lone woman sat behind the small counter in the corner, reading a thick book as she chewed on her fingernail. Aarik stepped forward, causing her to roll her deep-sunken blue eyes up at him.
He gave her a smile, which she did not return.
Instead, she sighed and slammed her book down with a thud, as if his being there was a personal insult. After a moment of stunned silence on his behalf, she demanded, "What?"
"You…have vacancies?" he asked, attempting weakly to hide his thick accent.
"What d'ya think?" she sneered, motioning to the sign placed in their window.
"We would like to have a room…please."
In a dull response, she sighed, "Kay." The woman stared at him; Aarik stared back. After a moment she shoved her hand, palm up, toward him and ordered, "You gotta gimme money first, ya firk." He blinked, startled by the rude insult. She added, "You ain't stayin' here for free unless yer lookin' ta be lynched."
She stared at him again, this time like he was crazy. "Where are you from," she demanded, her voice cracking in mid-sentence, "the sea? What's the same price of every hotel in this kingdom? Four rouples – as much as that bastard king will let us charge!"
Aarik attempted to act like he already knew about the human king's rules, clearing his throat as he dug into his side pouch. "Oh, of-of course…the law…I'm terribly sorry, miss."
The woman rolled her eyes, shoving her hand further forward. He placed the coins carefully into her calloused palm, and in return she shoved a key into his. "Room twelve," she said, snatching up her book again. "Up the stairs and to the left. I think you can find it from there…unless you'd like me to remind you what a twelve looks like?"
Aarik ignored her rude sarcasm and turned away from the desk, heading up the rickety staircase. His two guards followed him stiffly, both wanting to hurt, or at least threaten the woman for insulting their prince and friend. They refrained, but with difficulty.
Once safely out of the woman's hearing and on the landing of the stairs, Echo spat, "What a despicable race of creatures!"
Aarik reminded her calmly, "One peasant woman cannot define their whole race."
Tyrone, however, agreed with the original comment. "Humans are fools."
The prince sighed and shook his head, trying to be patient with his friends' stereotyping and assumptions. "Tyrone, Echo, please calm yourselves. It has been a long day and I am in no mood to listen to your complaints."
They fell silent.
Room twelve was located only a few doors away from the stairs; however, once they reached it, the three realized how unnecessary the key was. There was no lock.
"Nice," Echo said dully.
"Better than the woods," Aarik reminded her.
Tyrone reached forward, pushing the door open. The three friends walked into the threshold, Echo closing the door with her foot once they were all inside. They pulled their hoods off and examined the new surroundings.
A cot sat in the far left corner, the mattress absent from its wooden frame. There was a small, moth eaten blanket resting on the bedspring, no sheets were located within the room. The pillow rested weakly near the headboard, almost all of the feathers missing from its interior.
A broken table sat in front of a small window, which was lined with metal bars instead of glass. Since small, metallic cylinders were the only things blocking the room from the elements outside, a cool breeze floated into the room freely, sending goose bumps up Tyrone's arms.
He raised an eyebrow and asked, "Sure about that? I think I would rather sleep outside than in this disgusting excuse for a room."
The prince shrugged as he walked deeper into the room, examining it.
Echo warned, "Careful, the floor may fall through."
Aarik's lips twitched into a smile, though he wasn't entirely sure she was joking. "Who gets the-"
"You can," Tyrone interrupted. "We'll take the floor."
Echo agreed, "It's softer."
Aarik rolled his eyes, sitting down on the wooden skeleton of a bed, his fingers tracing the side. He grimaced as a sliver caught in his thumb, pulling his hand away sharply and examining it. Perhaps Echo was right and the floor was better….
His stomach let out a loud growl, reminding him of the aching hunger present. He asked, "Are you two ready to get something to eat?" The two guards nodded, looking anxiously toward the door as the prince rose to his feet, saying, "I saw a small restaurant beside the entry of the inn. We can eat there." The three pulled up their hoods as they exited the room, closing the door after they left.
Aarik followed his friends down the creaking stairwell and past the ignorant greeter. They moved to the entrance of the dining hall, freezing when they looked inside.
There was only one way to describe the room: complete chaos.
Drinks of ale were rampant, being tossed around and chugged in all corners. Waitresses were in dresses too tight for their chests and hips, their hair pulled up into tight buns atop their heads. A few danced on tables, while others flirted mercilessly with the customers.
Disgusted, the female archer muttered, "Is this a cathouse or a dining hall?" The three slowly moved into the room, the prince in the lead as they weaseled past a few humans.
"What, jealous?" Tyrone teased as a drunk woman bumped into him. He slid past her, helping Echo follow Aarik through the thick crowd.
"Of humans?" Echo replied, scrunching her nose up. "I think not. It would make more sense to be jealous of pigs." Tyrone laughed.
The young prince eventually found them a vacant table that was somewhat clean, located beside the large fire that billowed in the corner, keeping the lower half of the inn warm. Smoke flew out and burned the elves' eyes and clogged their throats, but they seated themselves despite that. A bad table was better than no table at all.
After about fifteen minutes of sitting unattended, a large-bosomed woman finally swayed toward them, wearing a red and white dress. She set a mug from her tray in front of each.
"Hiya, dolls," she purred with a large grin. "What can I get 'cha this lovely evenin'?"
"Soup would be fine, for all of us," Aarik answered.
The woman cooed, looking over at him as she stood hipshot, "Now ain't that just a purdy accent, eh? Ne'er heard it before."
Aarik shifted uncomfortably, unsure of how to respond to her comment.
She watched him for a moment longer, then said, "Ya know, y'all can take off yer hoods. It's warm 'round here."
The three elves slowly shook their heads, self-consciously pulling the hoods farther over their faces.
"Thank you, but we would rather not," Aarik responded politely.
The woman raised an eyebrow before shrugging, "Suit yerself. I'll go get 'cha yer soup in a minute er so, kay, loves?"
"Yes, thank you."
Echo watched her sway through the crowd before she turned to her friends. "We shouldn't stay here for very long. Leave at daybreak tomorrow."
Tyrone agreed, "If we are to continue west, we have a long and harsh road ahead of us."
Aarik slowly nodded. "Yes, we do."
"Then we had best not waste any time."
"We need to rest before we continue," he reminded him; then, said, "The mountains will be our next line of cover, beyond them is Blaxela.…"
Echo turned away from the conversation at her table to toss a disgusted look over her shoulder as a fight broke out amongst a few drunken humans. She began to open her mouth to say something to her fellow elves, but cut herself off as she felt a light tug at her side.
Quickly, the archer looked down, meeting a pair of blue eyes, belonging to a young woman who was just shy of five feet tall. Her blonde, scraggily hair fell into her eyes and reached well beyond her shoulders. She wore a strange black hat and a baggy, white blouse, brown britches to match. But what drew the elf's attention the fastest was the long strand of Patrata shells at her side.
The girl tried to jump to her feet, taking Echo's money pouch with her; however, the archer reached out and grabbed onto her wrist before the blonde could go anywhere
"Give me that!"
"Er…no?" the pirate offered with a shrug.
Aarik and Tyrone both looked up as Echo rose to her feet, attempting to grab the pouch; however, small pirate put her hand behind her back, making it more difficult for Echo to reach the money she held. "Thief, give it to me!"
The woman looked offended. "Thief? I ain't a thief."
"You're a pirate."
"But not a thief."
Echo glared at her. "One walks, the other sails. Other than that, there is no difference between the two," she paused, then added, "Except for perhaps your hat. Only pirates are dumb enough to wear something that...ridiculous."
"Naw!" the blonde countered, "We wear Patrata shells, too! Thieves don't do that."
"Ah, yes, I forgot your idiotic superstition," Echo sneered, reaching to try and grab the bag. The blonde moved so she couldn't snatch the pouch, grimacing as her wrist twisted painfully in the archer's grip.
"See? There are differences. They walk, we sail. They're idiots, we're superstitious. They have fashion sense, we don't-" She paused. "Well, that isn't really important, is it?"
Echo demanded, "Where is your ship then, pirate? Where is one of the few things that supposedly makes you better than thieves?"
She sighed, looking forlorn. "Scallywags took me ship. Left me only with my hat." She tapped the brim with finger, giving Echo the chance to grab the bag. The pirate, however, was faster than the elf anticipated and tucked it behind her back once again. "Ah, ah."
Giving the young woman a scowl, Echo tried to wrestle the bag from her; but, the blonde was much stronger than she looked, and put up a fight. A brief scuffle between the two of them ensued, resulting in only more trouble.
The pirate's hand caught Echo's hood, knocking it askew, and revealing her pointed ears and almond-shaped eyes. At the sight of an elf in their dining hall, a few humans, who had been watching the scuffle with amusement, rose to their feet, eyes now glimmering with hate.
Aarik and Tyrone stood also, knowing it wouldn't be long before more danger aroused.
"Pointed-ear freaks," one man snarled.
The three elves and the pirate slowly looked around, eyeing the humans that now surrounded them. Tyrone grasped the hilt of his sword and slowly pulled it from the scabbard at his side.
A man lunged forward, moving to hit Echo. Swiftly, she let go of the pirate and snatched a knife from her belt, stabbing him.
This action caused an uproar and more men from the crowd shoved forward to attack the elves. The short pirate fell away from the hell she had caused, scrambling between legs and under chairs as she clung to Echo's money pouch.
Aarik's fist made contact with the chin of a human coming up behind Tyrone. The man fell backward, soon disappearing behind his comrades, all desperate to get their hit in.
A screaming waitress began to hit his shoulder with a tray. Aarik turned calmly around and stared at her for a moment, before reaching forward and yanking it from her hands. The woman gasped, wide-eyed, then screamed, falling away. The prince sighed, shaking his head.
Tyrone used the handle of his sword, smashing it into the head of an attacker. He moved easily to the side, dodging another one. Quickly sliding his sword back into its sheath, he grabbed onto the shirt of a human who was trying to double-team Echo, and knocked him out, leaving the disposal of the other to the maiden.
Swarms of angry humans came upon the three fighting elves. Echo gouged her elbow into a stomach of an obese bartender, before swinging her leg up, contacting it with the chin of another human. For a brief moment, she saw a glimpse of the pirate standing at the doorway, grinning at the havoc she had caused, then disappearing. A surge of anger filled the archer-maiden, before her thoughts were forcefully dragged back to the fight.
A man twice her brawn came charging forward, fists flailing. Instead of trying to beat his obvious weight ratio, she ducked and let the man plow into another behind her, who happened to be fighting Aarik. Both the prince and the maiden stared as the two humans began fighting each other, forgetting in their drunken stupor who the enemy was.
It wasn't long before smaller brawls had started around the elves; and soon after that, none of the three were involved in the fight. The humans, too drunk to distinguish the difference between enemy and ally, left the elves standing beside each other in a confused silence.
After the initial shock of seeing the men fight each other, they realized that it was time for them to escape the dining hall. The three elves pulled their hoods up and ducked through the crowd. Before they left, the three each grabbed a bowl of untouched soup that was sitting unattended, then moved stealthy toward the stairs.
With a fuming Echo in the lead, they all pushed into their room, closing the door once inside. After setting her bowl down, the archer-maiden spun toward Aarik and firmly announced, "I hate humans."
*Sorry for the delay in updates. This chapter was giving us a VERY hard time. Oh, and Kimmy's (the sorceress in the prologue) has been changed to Khimee.