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The dark wall of Western Miakoda was motionless as the lone ranger stooped in its shade. Between the Quilu Grasslands and West Miakoda the green grass disappeared and became desert sand. Noldor had reached the West far before Cahlen did, but this was fine; the ranger wasn't too eager to meet up with the assassin…just yet. Right now he just needed answers and information.
Peering up at the vacant wall above him from under his hood, Cahlen became impatient. He hastily saluted, although he couldn't see any guards on the wall at the moment, then called, "Are the Western soldiers all lazy or will a simple traveler be able to pass?"
A little ways away, two eyes were watching the ranger intently. A young boy it seemed was perched on a crooked branch of a dead tree. He was well balanced and his stance didn't seem humanlike. His blond hair was disheveled, as though the boy had been traveling for a while himself. He glared for another moment then leapt off the dead branch. In midair he grew larger and his skin became red while coal black eyes replaced his blue ones. He landed as a red death demon and approached Cahlen.
"Don't shout such accusations," he said as smoothly as any red death, although he spoke in the common tongue. "Where might you be going anyway?"
"Hmmph, darkness hides even in the trees of Western Miakoda. Unless you are a guard, I have no business with you." Cahlen adjusted his cloak and shouted for the gate guards again. This demon wasn't like the others he'd met, and he didn't intend to stick around and find out what this one's agenda was.
Looking at Cahlen's bird, the demon smiled and his boyish personality arose from underneath the red death form. Aireh glared at the smiling demon with beady eyes. Automatically, the demon reached out a hand and brushed the bird's wing with an oily hand. Instantly Aireh shrieked and snapped at the approaching hand with annoyance. The demon withdrew while Cahlen gave him a half suspicious, half amused glance. Then the demon spoke again, his smile gone. "Who said I was dark? Let me be your guide, you shall need me more than you know in the future, for these lands are foreign to you."
"Hahaha, you amuse me sir. I don't trust you as far as I could throw you," Cahlen stated bluntly as he positioned his shoulder so that Aireh was as far as possible from the stranger. "Now, if you please, unless you can show me tangible evidence of your honest intentions, get out of my sight!"
Shrugging, the demon turned and walked back into the desert. As he walked, his red skin changed back to its tan hue and his blond hair shone in the strong sun. "My name is Garet Bonegue." He turned around and glanced back at the indifferent ranger. "Good luck in the West. It's not that great." He continued to walk casually east, wondering what the other side of Miakoda was like.
Hmm, I have met nothing that hasn't either tried to eat me or stab me in the back since I left East Miakoda and the confine of her walls, Cahlen thought. As he gazed at the looming walls of the West and he heard voices emanate from the top, he wondered if it was wise to enter after all.
A smaller gate creaked open and a soldier approached the ranger, sword drawn, and grimaced. He looked Cahlen up and down for an uncomfortably long amount of time. There was suspicion in his eyes. "What are you here for? Speak quickly. I have no time for idle chit-chat."
Cahlen's head was bowed so that his cloak covered his features. "I come to visit your city for personal reasons, sir. If you do not mind, I have business that needs attending to within your walls." Aireh sat hunched up on Cahlen's shoulder, looking very much like a short-necked vulture or crow, adding to the facade.
The soldier threw his head back and let out a rasping laugh. "Personal reasons? What, are you seeing grandma? Or perhaps a lover awaits you across this border?" He snorted cruelly and placed his sword at Cahlen's chest before moving it away. "You amuse me," he chuckled. "I won't kill you. It'll cause too much of a fuss."
In one motion Cahlen unsheathed his Quarterstaff, gracefully spun it once or twice, then smashed hilt of the guards sword, sending the blade spinning in the air. Cahlen then replaced his staff and caught the spinning sword and held it at the guards throat.
"Do not threaten me sir." He said with a tone that would have frozen hell. "Now, will you let me in?" Cahlen handed the guard his sword with a glance that said 'try that again and your sword won't be the only thing you'll lose.'
The soldier seemed shocked for a moment. The others on the parapets paused in their milling about to see what the fuss was. Several peals of cruel laughter were heard and caused the soldier on the ground to murmur some very rude words. Trying to ignore the laughter, he mockingly bowed to the ranger. "By all means, "my good sir", you have truly proved yourself worthy. Go on through." As he said this, his eyes flashed angrily with the desire to avenge his hurt ego.
Hope that doesn't come back to haunt me. I'd better watch my back. Maybe threatening the guard wasn't the best idea, but he'd have to stick with it. Cahlen walked past the guard in mock arrogance, patting his shoulder as he passed. Cahlen tensed up, awaiting a back attack from the guard, who's ego he had obviously, and severely, damaged. This time, the guard might not be so lucky. However, the guard merely watched the ranger go, seething in anger as his fellow soldiers continued to laugh at him.
A gruff voice emanating from the wall suddenly stifled the laughter above. "Ye bloody oafs! Get back to watchin! If ye harass every person that comes here 'r there, we'll have n' army left! You there! You're demoted! Congratulations!" There was laughter again. "Shaddup! All of you! Demoted!" The laughter stopped abruptly. Cahlen chuckled rather cheerfully as he stepped through the gate.
Now, down to business. He said his business was personal, and he meant it. There were two people in this world he sought. The first being the assassin who ruined his life, not 6 years ago. The second, Noldor Elrohir. The drow seemed to have an agenda against him, and he wanted to know why. A third reason, maybe, was to find out information that may be used in enticing the queen of East Miakoda. He had faith in the good cause, and its protection might prove useful later. At least you could trust people there. He strode through the gate and set off for the nearest city.
In Lamboran City, East Miakoda, Drid Glorsten sat behind the counter of his blacksmith shop, staring at the red-hot iron of the shield he was forging. Business was at an all time high since the war effort had escalated. He had been receiving commissions almost every day now and the coffers were full. He chuckled darkly to himself, thinking of his good fortune at peace's expense.
I should be lookin' to find me an assistant if business keeps up like this, he thought cheerily. Of course he was kidding, he was perfectly capable of keeping up with the demand. There was plenty of banter to be had here, and he was rarely alone. Now was one of the few times when the store was empty, so he had time to work uninterrupted.
With his shop till this full, he was considering trying to hire some security, for thieves would love to get their conniving paws on his stash. He looked over at his hammer propped up on the side of the counter. Not while me and me hammer still own this shop they won't. He laughed again. The dwarf was in a good mood today.
The wooden door creaked open and a small chill from the outside entered the stifling room. As the door shut with a subtle 'click', a young elven boy approached the table. He turned his blue eyes to the brown haired dwarf then tossed his life savings onto the counter. "Please...sir," the boy said as he slung the bag onto the counter. The coins jingled persuasively. "This is all I ever got from the moon elves, please make me iron knuckles for piercing, four bracers, and some bladed boots. Please...I have heard you are the best." His eyes seemed...wanting, but worried too.
After he had entered the East after talking to the ranger, Garet was faced with a dilemma. Although he had lived most of his life in the West, he did want to find out about the East and its queen. So he had eventually decided to go directly to Castle Greywind and meet the queen person. However, he refused to step into such territory unarmed. It was time he got himself some weapons.
"Aye, I can do that for ya, lad. And I'm in a good mood, half off just for you." The dwarf took some of the coins, than slid the rest back over the counter to the boy who eagerly snatched them off the countertop. "Actually, now that I think about it, I may have some premade equipment in the back. Let me see if I can take some time off yer hands." The dwarf slipped into a back room while Garet took a seat and waited patiently.
Momentarily, Drid returned, carrying several items. He dropped them on the counter with a clatter. "Today's yer lucky day, boy. I happened to have everything you asked for in the back. Try them on and see if they're the right size." Garet did as he was told. The bracers were snug enough as were the knuckles but the boots were slightly oversized. The moon elf pointed this out. "Ar, I can fix that for yah." Drid worked quickly and soon Garet had all he had wanted.
"Thank you, sir, what you have given to me shall be put to great use." Jumping up and down in joy he threw a few test punches. "Would you mind me coming here often, just for a job or something?"
"Woahoho, lad, calm down." Drid chuckled merrily. He understood though: the thrill of new equipment, fresh from the forge. "You are more than welcome to visit, and as for a job, I could use an assistant. Heaven knows, I could use some extra sleep and help maintainin' the shop, ah?"
This sent the jubilant boy into even more excitement. "Thank you, sir!" He was overjoyed that he would soon be working for one of the best forgers in the land.
"Any help would be appreciated, laddie. Good day to you, err... What be your name?" Drid called after the boy. He forgot he didn't even know the boy's name! How awkward. I should at least know the name of my new assistant, Drid chuckled to himself.
"It's Garet Bonegue, sir! And thank you once more!"
"Alrighty, run along now lad. I've much work to do," the cheerful smithy said with a twinkle in his eye.
Garet obediently took off into the streets and turned toward Castle Greywind. It was time he met the queen.
Drid chuckled once more then started on his latest commission; a new order of spear-tips for the horseman of the Eastern army. Drid turned to his anvil and resource piles in the back of his shop and selected a fine piece of iron ore, weighing it in his hand. "Aye, this'll do fine." He said, taking stock of its quality. Placing it in the fire, he watched with an undying passion for his work as the iron glowed red-hot. He took it out after a while and began to hammer it into shape. He would repeat this process quite a bit before the finished product: several spear tips. Drid smiled in satisfaction as he worked. "Garet Bonegue. Quite a lively young lad. If he can focus on his work, he could make a great blacksmith one day. With my instruction, of course. Hahaharrr!"
Garet had to admit that Castle Greywind was beautiful. The supporting stone shone in midday splendor. Ivy crept up the walls, but it wasn't high enough or strong enough to provide a safety risk. Fabulous towers arose from the base and sparkled high in the sun. The castle dwarfed the tall trees surrounding it and the sturdy walls protecting the castle appeared impenetrable.
Whistling in admiration and still in moon elf form, Garet approached the castle, feeling very small standing near such an impressive structure. He saw as he drew near a drawbridge flanked by two guards. "Halt! State your name and business," the two guards standing before the drawbridge commanded.
Garet threw his hands up to show he was unarmed. "I mean no harm. I wish to see the queen."
"Why do you wish to see her?" The voice came from behind the boy and he spun around in surprise. A cloaked woman was standing barely five feet away from him. She was elven, that much was apparent. Her pale blond hair fell about her shoulders and she was smiling.
Although he was surprised he had been snuck up on, the moon elf swept down low and bowed to the lady politely. He then spoke in elven. "Sorry, madam, I only wish to see the queen, for I want to know more about her. She seems interesting enough, I just...don't know where to go." He felt his red death diplomacy working faithfully by his side.
The elven woman was still smiling, her grey eyes glinting in the morning light. "I need to go to her throne room as well. Let us go together." She took a step toward the gate and the guards stepped aside. The great gate swung open and the woman passed inside without questioning.
Garet smiled; it was nice to have a companion. "Thank you. Kill two birds with one stone." Walking inside the castle with her, he wondered if the guards would let him in. Looking their stern faces as he passed, he knew that in a fight, he would be overwhelmed. "You have been kind for one that hasn't known me. Although, to be honest, I don't even know what the queen looks like," he then laughed at himself. "Ironic, eh?" The guards let him pass without a word.
The woman chuckled and Garet noted that she barely made any noise whenever she took a step. "You will know soon enough," she said. Garet also noticed that the guards sprang aside and saluted when she passed them.
After about ten minutes, the two arrived in the Great Hall where the queen's throne sat and her majesty tended to public affairs. The room was truly grand. Beautiful carvings covered the walls and pillars of marble were lined up in columns. Weavings and tapestries unlike anything Garet had ever seen before met his eye aesthetically. The throne itself sat in the very center after a series of small steps. Jewels were encrusted into the frame and the light from the windows caught their colors and sent rainbows dancing about the room. Never before had the moon elf seen such splendor. He was speechless for a moment then realized something. "Where is the queen?"
His companion took a few steps forward then turned around with a smile. She undid the clasp of her cloak and let it fall to the floor. Beneath the ordinary cloak was a dazzling robe, laden with purples and gold colors. A pendant hung about her neck, bearing the royal symbol: a pair of wings enveloping a crown.
Garet gulped as he realized who was standing before him. Wow...was all that he thought as he looked at her face. However, he managed to collect himself. He then leaned against the wall smoothly. "So you are the queen." His brow went up and his mouth morphed to a smile. He then bowed at her presence on one knee instead of his sweep. "Please, I just want to get to know you better, for I know nothing of this war. See...I heard about you, and your care for the East, and I wanted to meet you...personally. I am sorry if I have wasted your time, I just thought you might need a friend in this time of dire struggle and chaos." His eyes descended as he spoke these things. "There are many things that I may not know in my twenty two years of living, but what I do know, is that everyone needs another to give them moral and emotional support."
Elita, was still smiling warmly. "You are wise for one who looks so young and I will tell you what you wish to know. What is your name?" She inclined her head, acknowledging the shifter.
"The name is Garet Bonegue, at your service. Thank you for trusting me, and for that will tell you this." He lowered his eyes to the floor. "I am a shapeshifter from the red death regions. My original form is a human, and my other is a red death demon. I seem to have taken a liking, though, of my moon elf form." He hoped that she would not respond negatively to what he just said. "Pray don't get mad. I may be of service as a guard, for I see that you have no personal bodyguard."
On that note, Kakomei rested her hand upon Garet's shoulder with crippling firmness. From whence she came was quite a mystery, but her eyes never left Queen Elita, whether or not she was on castle grounds. Kakomei's eyes were cold as she critically looked the moon elf up and down. She hadn't taken much offense to his last statement...it was more of a compliment to her surreptitiousness. "I do not believe that will be necessary," she said, her tone monotonous and untrusting. She did not like the aura he reeked of.
Garet was indeed startled, but kept his cool. Putting his hands on Kakomei's, he shook his head and smiled. "I see that you indeed have a personal bodyguard. A stealthy one too." He bowed low. "A pleasure to meet you, whoever you are, my name is Garet Bonegue. However, take your hand off my shoulder. And my queen, I suggest that you would have me be of service to you."
Mei let a smirk slide. She was impressed by this audacious move, threatening the personal guard of the queen herself. Did he truly feel so confident, and bold to think his skill was near comparable to hers? She was quite amused, although made no indication of it. Rash moves could cost the East gravely at times like these and she saw no reason as to why she must prove herself. She stepped next to the queen, pulling her hand free of his. "Greetings Garet, the pleasure is all mine. Although, I do not believe you are in any position to be making suggestions..."
The moon elf's eyes turned downward. "I know. I merely...never mind. Truly though, meeting one of such power is a pleasure indeed for me. What is your name now?" He wanted to try and get to know this one before making any other moves. The bodyguard seemed very suspicious of him. Perhaps because he had mentioned he had a red death form. But then again…perhaps she had the right to be suspicious. His past wasn't an admirable one. Brushing himself off of his past, he shook his head, trying to forget those memories.
The queen's smiled faded as she stared at Garet. "Kakomei is not only my personal bodyguard but also my close friend. If you wish to be high ranked in my army, you must learn to treat others with respect, whether they are of a high position or not." She looked into his eyes as though probing through his soul and his past. "Despite anyone's past, I believe we all deserve a second chance."
Garet felt his mind having another soul in it and he looked at Elita stoically. "As I told you a couple minutes ago, queen Elita...I am a shifter and I merely didn't wish for your bodyguard…Kakomei…to go into a trance as is the reaction most have to touching a shifter. I did not mean to threaten her, and I am not a threat myself. My apologies to you...please forgive me." His head went down the same style for when he had to bow down so long ago to the red death demons, with his back open for a lashing.
Kakomei stood by Elita silently now but she was still glaring at the shifter in front of her. Elita smiled again, yet more sadly. "You are forgiven. If you wish to serve East Miakoda please swear an oath stating you will never betray us to Malador. Such an oath, when broken, will result in banishment. Only make this promise if you intend to keep it, for the consequences of not doing so would be most dire."
The queen's grey eyes pierced Garet's blue eyes and he faltered for a moment, nervous. Then, however, the shifter took a step forward and placed a hand over his heart. "I, Garet Bonegue, swear that I shall serve the queen, and not be a traitor to her." Every word he spoke was convincing.
Elita drew back, satisfied, as was Kakomei. "I sense you will be true to your word. You have promised to serve the queen which is comparable to serving East Miakoda. You are now a soldier of the East, Garet Bonegue. Rise." Garet obeyed and as he rose he felt invigorated, ready to begin his new life. Elita nodded to him with a regal smile then asked, "What style of fighting are you most proficient with, Garet?"
At this, the shifter grinned. "I'm a bit of a martial artist, my lady." He extended the bracers he had just received from Drid an hour ago. "These were crafted by Drid Glorsten himself. The great blacksmith has now made me his apprentice."
Elita smiled at this. "Drid is a good friend of mine. He provides many customized weapons to the army. If Drid has placed his confidence in you, then I must as well."
Garet noticed then that whenever the Queen smiled, it was with sad, weary eyes. He frowned, a bit concerned. "If you want, we can take a walk, and you can relax. Even the queen deserves her leisure. That is...if you like lakes and all." He then leaned against the wall, relaxed in a state where, for once, he felt comfortable around someone.
Elita's smile faded away and she let out a small sigh. "I am terribly sorry…I have a meeting I must attend within the hour."
Garet was a quick thinker. "Well, why don't you take a walk with me on the way to wherever it is you must go? Only we'll take a more scenic detour." Garet was a bit surprised at his eagerness to make the queen happy. What was he doing, was he really thinking of serving another? He then shrugged, content in doing so. It was nice having a friend who you knew wouldn't stab you in the back when you weren't watching.
The queen's face softened at Garet's proposal. "You have a kind heart, Garet Bonegue. I will accept your proposal. Perhaps a walk will do me some good."
Kakomei raised an eyebrow and stepped forward. "My lady, I still don't trust this boy, this shifter. As your bodyguard it is my duty to-"
Elita cut her off. "No, it's alright, Mei. I trust him. You will not need to accompany us, Mei. I'll be fine I'm sure." At that, Kakomei sank into a sullen silence but she continued to shoot Garet suspicious looks. Elita turned back to Garet. "Now, Garet, my meeting is in Taurane City, so I suppose a walk through the Golden Forest would suffice?" The shifter nodded in agreement. "Good. If you'll wait here for me, I first need to fetch some documents." Garet waited patiently for the queen to return, and when she did he followed her out of the hall.
The Golden Forest was so named for its leaves that always remained golden no matter what the season. As Garet and Elita ambled through the boughs and branches, the shifter smiled at the beauty and peacefulness around him. "Thanks," was all he said to the regal figure next to him.
Elita glanced at Garet quizzically. "Whatever for?" The color of the leaves above contrasted beautifully with the bright blue sky. Birds called out and beasts scuttled happily in front of their feet.
"Maybe you should mess with my mind again and figure it out." The shifter smiled and shook his head. He paused then said, "Really it's because…I've never really been able to call anyone a companion before…or a friend." The twenty-two year old boy looked into Elita's eyes and stopped walking. He smiled and finally knew what friendship was. "Unless you are in a dire hurry, maybe we can visit the moon elven lake that I once knew so long ago."
Elita looked back at Garet sadly. What trials this boy must have gone through to make him not know friendship until now. Elita shook her head and gazed at the golden leaves again. One broke from its branch in the gentle wind and floated down to the ground lazily. Elita closed her eyes. How long has it been…since I last noticed how beautiful this forest is? The queen sighed in the midst of the beauty then nodded. "I suppose I could spare some time."
Garet beamed and quickened his pace. Soon, a great, knotted tree rose up to meet the two. At the shifter's word, they halted briefly. Garet took a step forward and murmured a string of elven words under his breath. The old wizened tree warped at his words then a knothole on its trunk grew and stretched until it was big enough for both companions to step through. Below was an underground lake that lazily swerved through tree roots. Although the cavern was dirty and soil fell from the rooted ceiling every so often, there was a magical feel about the place.
"I used to come here and hide when I was a child," Garet said as he took a seat at the edge of the river.
Elita followed suit. "I can see why. There is a magic that protects this place." For a while, they both sat there in silence, thinking.
Presently, a mischievous smile flickered across Garet's face. It was time to show the queen how to have fun. He examined her face and determined she was deep in thought. Then, with the laugh of an eight-year-old boy, he gave her a push into the water.
Out of reflex, the queen had Garet by the arm and he instantly met the same fate. Elita's regal face was inlaid with indignant shock for a moment that caused Garet to double over in peels of laughter. She emerged, sopping, from the river and turned to face the boy. Seeing the look on her face, Garet morphed into the cutest form he had obtained, a little creature called a chib. It looked like a tiny fuzz ball. He followed the queen out of the water in his chib form then looked up at her with what he hoped were innocent and adorable eyes. Elita snatched the fuzz ball up by the scruff of its neck and brought it to her eye level. For a moment, she stared it down with narrowed eyes, then they both burst into laughter. When Garet changed back into his human form, they were still laughing. When they left the cavern and stood back in the forest, their laughter had not died away in the least.
Eventually, Elita looked at the sky and her laughter melted away. "Oh! I must get to that meeting, Garet. It seems I have misjudged the time! I must leave you now."
Garet looked down and his merry state vanished as quickly as hers did. He had liked the sound of her laughter. "Before you go," he said quietly. "I want you to know that you're the best friend I've ever had. That is, you may be the first friend I've ever had." That being said, he rushed forward and gave Elita a quick hug before turning around and running away. He didn't want Elita to see him get emotional. Anyway, he wanted to get back to Drid's forge.
Elita watched the boy with surprise. When was the last time anybody had given her hug? It seemed like such a simple thing…but she couldn't remember anyone giving her a hug in a very long time. Except for this boy…Garet. She watched him go, her eyes once again returning to their sad appearance. She turned and left the Golden Forest and the laughter behind.