The Bloody Claw; a place where even the fiercest of enemies could sit side by side for a pint. The Bloody Claw seemed to gather the strangest of characters. You could at any time find ogres and even banshees sitting and conversing as humans would. But this wasn't as odd as the location of The Claw. The Bloody Claw was built on the borders of Silnasky and Derox, two nations, exact opposites.
Silnasky was the nation of the elves, one with nature and good in all ways. Industrial and warlike Derox was the exact opposite of Silnasky. The founder of the tavern, Roland Silnovst, was a strange man yes, but not stupid. He knew he would profit greatly by building his tavern where he did. It was on the edge of the mountains, and the only possible place for anyone to rest and re-supply before trudging through the mountains of Derox.
Roland was long dead, and now Sylvan was the owner of The Claw. Sylvan was an elf, and a proud one at that. This story though, does not center around him, but his daughter, Zirel. Zirel looked similar enough to a shadow fox in all ways except she was much larger than any fox she knew, she had a human like face, but had a muzzle like a fox. She stood on two legs, also she had human like hands, paws if you prefer, which included, luckily, thumbs. Her feet were small and completely fox; no trace of human except the size, she usually wore no shoes due to this fact. Zirel was certainly not Sylvan's daughter, most likely left on the wealthy elf's doorstep. This is where our story begins, The Bloody Claw, early morning with a sharp bite in the air due to the fast approaching winter.
"Father!" Zirel practically yelled, her voice reaching its peak in anger. "I'm not your little girl anymore Dad. You can't control my life!" She said her voice angry but no longer a yell, and stormed off to her room, her footfalls unusually heavy. Sylvan sighed and walked out of the backroom.
"That Zirel," He said with a sigh and a shake of his head that sent his raven hair spilling over his almond shaped vibrant blue eyes.
"She'll be the death of me." He finished and began compulsively scrubbing at a greasy smear that faulted the silver sheen of the pewter mug that sat upon the bar.
Zirel was sitting in her bedroom, or rather, lying. She was collapsed on the bed, her pet fox Roland curled up next to her; she stroked his orange-red, sleek fur.
"I don't know Rol" She said softly burying her head in his soft fur. "He just doesn't understand me. He never will." She said and looked up, her arms locked around Roland as tears streamed down her already tear streaked face. Roland looked up his warm brown eyes pleading. "Oh Rol, Sometimes I think you're the only person I can trust." She said with a watery smile.
Zirel's tail arched gracefully behind her as she stood and looked in the cloudy mirror that hung on the wall by her bed. Her father hated a creature that was vain, so he never planned to buy Zirel a mirror. But, Zirel bothered him and annoyed him until he finally bought her this one at the bazaar for
three coppers. She stared at her reflection and stood tall. "I mustn't act childish Rol, I am eighteen now. And I must act accordingly, right Rol?" She said turning to Roland who was again asleep. She nodded as if he had responded and smoothed her ruffled fur then brushed away the tears that made their paths down her face. Drying her eyes she walked out the door, head held high and seemingly not at all flustered by the recent argument. Currently she wore her usual garments, black pants that were tight but widened at the bottom and a white blouse that offset the look of darkness and despair that usually clung to her.
She often got looks, not because of her unmatched grace and ability to seemingly read minds. But for the fact she was a Fox demon. Fox Demons, being a wanted species during The War of the Seven, had, according to rumor, retreated into FoxWood where they apparently never left. FoxWood was a good bit south of The Bloody Claw, in The Nation of The United Forests. A Nation united by war only to, ironically enough, fall again after The War of the Seven. The seven dragons that had been feuding over the throne compromised and the nation found its borders patrolled by Draconions wearing Malisinask the Green's seal. Zirel did not know much of this but none the less she wished to find her people and show them the outside world, with all the wonders and horrors that it held.
Sylvan noticed Zirel exit her room, but chose to ignore this and continue to compulsively clean the now spotless mug with a white dishrag. Zirel spoke first and broke the eerie silence that pervaded the tavern.
"Father..." She began but was cut off as the door opened and sent a gust of chilly air in her direction. A chill ran up her spine as a cloaked figure entered the tavern. Zirel jumped on the task of greeting this early visitor almost too eager to drop the subject of her recent argument with her father. "Hello kind sir, may I get you a room? Only seven coppers." She offered but the figure shook its head.
"No thank you M'lady. At least, not quite yet." Said a voice from the shadows that concealed the figure's face. "I'll take a pint my dear." It said in a rough, but oddly musical voice.
"Yes, coming up." Zirel said and swiftly poured the cloaked figure a pint of The Bloody Claw's famous ale. She slid it across the bar where it was caught by a white furred hand that shot out from the sleeve and snatched it. Zirel nodded and turned to face her father once more, she opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted.
"Sorry to be a bother, but how much is this, also, would a raven be permitted to enter? She says she is becoming rather chilled staying outside,"
"Two coppers for the drink and one extra for the bird." Zirel answered with a forced smile. The figure nodded and whistled sharply. A Raven flew into the tavern through the cracked window and landed on the strangers shoulder.
"Ah yes, hello Faux. Here is your payment M'lady" Said the figure as it slid three coppers across the bar where Zirel caught and pocketed them. She nodded, and turned her attention to her father once more.
"Father, I just don't belong here. Can't you see it? The way people look at me? I just can't do it anymore. I can't live a lie. I need to find my people." Zirel said her eyes ablaze with defiance. Sylvan sighed,
"Yes, I have seen it too my dear. I have. They all look in wonder, amazement. You have read what few books that I could find. You know all to well that most haven't seen a Fox-Demon for a decade if at all." He said gently, his voice quavering with sorrow and pain. "I know and I understand why you want to leave. I just. I don't believe it is time quite yet. I need you now; The Bloody Claw needs you Zirel." He finished and looked at Zirel's piercing emerald eyes that had been staring at him, giving him her complete attention. Her expression became grave, almost sorrowful.
"You don't understand though. You can't. You're people are to the west, not even a days ride from here father. You knew your home. You knew your people." She said softly. Sylvan sighed,
"I know there is nothing I can do to stop you, by human standards you have come of age, and I must respect that." He said and turned around, ending the discussion. Zirel nodded and walked calmly to her room, closing the door gently behind her.
"So, how about that room?" The figure said suddenly breaking the silence. Sylvan nodded and took a key from the cupboard where there where ten keys all neatly arranged by number. The figure deposited seven coppers on the bar in return for the key then retreated to his room, leaving Sylvan alone in the main room with only his troubled thoughts as company.
Zirel sat on her bed, this time no tears ran down her cheeks, no curses flowed from her mouth. She was perfectly calm, almost wrongly so. She was busily packing a saddle bag; planning to leave, to go to FoxWood and find her home. With luck she would also find her mother perhaps even her father. She was putting her brush and such things into the side pocket when she heard a knock on the door. Roland's ears shot straight up and his eyes opened, alert, watching. Zirel disregarded this sign that it wasn't her father and answered the knock,
"It's open," She said and the door opened to admit the early customer. Zirel cocked a brow, this wasn't the first time a customer had disregarded the line that separated the Staff's rooms from the rentals. She sighed inwardly and was about to speak when the figure beat her to it.
It bowed lightly, letting its hood drop. He was a wolf-demon of sorts apparently. His face was furred and his eyes a keen, icy blue with slit pupils. The Raven that was perched upon his shoulder watched Zirel, its black beady eyes, unblinking, and in a way, unnerving.
"I am Kiran M'lady. I am pleased to finally meet the famous Zirel FoxFire. Though, Honored would be a more appropriate word." He said and smiled warmly breaking the spell that held Zirel's eyes to the raven.
"I don't understand." Zirel said softly, eyeing his white wolf tail and ears which deemed him a wolf demon.
"Oh, dear. This will be rather hard to explain. May I?" He asked gesturing to a chair in the far corner by the window that Zirel used to read by the moonlight. Zirel nodded and Kiran walked to the chair and sat down, his raven fluttered from his shoulder to the arm of the chair and continued to stare at Zirel. "You, Zirel FoxFire," He began, already his musical voice had enthralled Zirel; she was staring into his icy eyes, captured. "Are the ruler of FoxWood, actually, you are rightfully the ruler of the entire continent of Alaston." Kiran said whilst Zirel's face changed from startled to a mask of confusion.
"But, I can't be, I mean…well… I just can't be. I'm just….me" She said softly. Kiran smiled in a knowing way.
"Yes, I understand your confusion. But, none the less, your people need you Zirel. They are in dire need of your help." Kiran said his voice low and his expression grim. Zirel cocked her head,
"Why do they need my help?" She asked.
"Because, Zirel, you are their Queen, my Queen." He said.
"Why do my people need help at all? I thought they were content in the forest. Safe." Zirel asked. Kiran shook his head.
"No, that is a story for another time. It isn't even safe to speak of such things anymore. We must leave. It is not safe for you anymore; the dragons have found out about your birth and have sent assassins." Kiran said his voice hushed.
Sylvan had seen the stranger enter the room, though he was a bit disturbed by the fact he did not exit until an hour had passed he took no immediate action. He knew no harm had come to his daughter, for, he had heard no screams. He thought nothing of this until curiosity finally got the best of him when he found himself wandering to Zirel's door. He was about to knock the large knocker against the dark wood door when it opened. The knocker, which was shaped like two foxes, their tails the actual knocker, was in his hand so he was pulled forward before he had the thought to let go. He stumbled then stood straight, staring into the eyes of Zirel, they had a strange far away look to them, misty, lost. Sylvan was the first to speak.
"My dear, what did that customer want?" He asked trying not to sound too intrusive. Zirel smirked.
"That's what I was coming to tell you father. I'm leaving with Kiran. He's taking me to FoxWood where I will take my rightful place as Queen." She said with a slight air of superiority. Sylvan's face became blank and even paler than usual.
"What? You're…Going…to FoxWood? You're the Queen?" He spluttered through his confusion. Zirel nodded.
"According to Kiran, yes. I am the Queen. He said..." She started but was cut off.
"They will kill you Zirel! Behead you! They fear you Zirel; they fear the riots you will start. They fear the rebels. For they were once rebels, they know the power you can stir. You, you my dear… you will be made an example. By leaving, by going to FoxWood all you will accomplish is killing yourself and driving the people of Alaston deeper into the coma of ignorance they have come to live in. There is nothing you can do!" He said his face now flushed with anger. "Do not let Kiran manipulate you for his own purposes, his own greed." He finished. Zirel stared at him icily.
"You cannot stop me." She said her voice quavering with unshed tears and unearthed pains. With that Zirel stormed out the front door of the tavern, her packed saddle bag thrown over her shoulder. Sylvan stood there, he wiped the tears of anger and loss that had been brimming in his wide blue eyes and walked to his room solemnly.
Zirel walked swiftly to the stables where she began to saddle her horse, whose eyes burnt like embers shining in the deep of night that was its face. She was quickly strapping the saddle to the horses back when she heard someone enter the stables, it was Sylvan. Zirel turned around and glared at him coldly then returned to her work. She worked so hastily that she cut her thumb on the loose unworn straps. She sucked her thumb and continued. Sylvan walked over to his daughter and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
"Zirel, I know I cannot stop you. I just fear for you, fear for your life. Can you promise me something? Can you promise me you will be careful?" He asked and Zirel promptly nodded. "In that case, I have a gift for you." He said and drew a small glass bottle and a pouch of coins from his bag. "This is a bottle of frozen water, from the highest mountains in Linoska. It will never thaw. When you uncork it, time will freeze until you replace the cork. Use it wisely though, for you can only use it once." He said softly and handed the items to Zirel. She smiled a soft forgiving smile. Sylvan returned the smile and Zirel lunged forward and wrapped her arms around her father,
"I'm sorry." She whispered as the silent tears that streamed down her cheeks spilt onto Sylvan's shoulder. Kiran cautiously tapped Zirel on the shoulder.
"Uhh….I know this is an Umm….touchy feely, father daughter sorta moment and all….but err… well….we gotta go." He said with a forced smile. Zirel nodded and pulled away from her fathers embrace. Kiran looked at Zirel's horse, "We're going by dragon back." He said bluntly and gestured to the door where a Blue dragon was peering inside, its eyes icy blue not at all unlike Kiran's.
"Uhh… Yeah," She lied and unsaddled her horse. Kiran helped Zirel onto the dragon's saddle that rested between its shoulder blades. He then climbed smoothly to the saddle as well. Kiran whistled and the dragon pumped its large leathery wings, and catching the air it began to rise.
"Good Bye Father," She yelled over the din of the dragon's wings. Sylvan waved and stood back, way back. With that Zirel and Kiran were off, on their way to FoxWood. Once they reached a reasonable height and the dragon was quietly soaring Kiran turned to Zirel.
"Now, do you still want to hear about your past?" Kiran asked.
"Yes, anyway, what else to I have to do?" She said with a halfhearted smile. Kiran nodded and began.
"I will start from the very beginning, before the dragons became the rulers of Alaston…..