Chapter 15

I am up early in the morning, the sun is not yet up, and I seriously doubt Tansar is. Moving silently out of bed, I stretch my muscles, glad that they are not sore. As I finish, my body is warm and relaxed. I turn to meet Zephar's green eyes.

He yawns languidly and we both still when our eyes meet. I watch the dim light play across his eyes. They light in his eyes flicker for a little bit, and then with each second, his eyes darken until they are near black.

I tear my eyes away from his and pull on my cloak. It is uncanny how he distracts me so easily with his eyes. "Come on, we should go find some breakfast before we meet Tansar. I – we need to be focused when we talk to him."

"Sure, a little food won't hurt."

I shake my head, throwing the image of his beautiful dark green eyes out. "Come on then."

The food is dry in my mouth, and it takes a while to swallow each bite. Zephar is sitting beside me, and it comforts me slightly. By now, I am beginning to get used to his presence. He taps my arm when he sees the shape-shifter appear through the door.

Tansar joins us, dark circles under his eyes, but looking happy. He sits down directly across from me, his plate heaping with food. "So what is it you have wanted to talk to me about?"

"I'm afraid the request I want to make is not a pleasant one, but it is very important to my people and me." I hate to spoil his good mood, but I do what I have to.

"Ask away Aryan. I will do what I can for you, and I'm sure the others of my group will too. We owe you our lives."

I am well aware that Zephar is listening too, wondering why I would bother staying here for so long. "Tansar, my people are in a war for their lives…"

He takes another big bite of food and looks at me. "So?" he asks with his mouth full.

"I want you and your raiders to help me, along with any other groups that agree to help. This is like a life and death situation."

His face darkens. "A war. Your people mean nothing to me. Your people do not even know that we exist."

"Please Tansar. I need your help. I don't particularly like the elves of the Sacred Lands, but I have a responsibility. You owe me your life many times over, and many of your people do to. I require some help."
"I have a debt to you… I suppose I will have to help. Many of my people will die though... No Aryan, I will not take my people to war for you."

"Let your people decide. If you cannot live up to your debts, let's see if your own people will. Let us see if your people are honorable." I challenge him.

He pushes the food around on his plate. "I know I owe you my life more than once, but war is a big deal. I- your elf friends do not deserve my help," he says finally. "If it is just you that I have to save from some place, I would not hesitate because I know and my people know you care for more than yourself."

I was afraid this would happen. My people stay to themselves, and when they need help, they don't get it. How should I do this?

The silence stretches, and Tansar is the first one who breaks. "Come back and see me later if you have some other request. I'm sorry I cannot help you with this one."

I watch him leave without another word. It would not be fair or wise if I use magic over him so there has to be another way to hook him into what I want him to do…

"Let's go into a private room and we can speak without any prying eyes or ears." Zephar follows me without asking another question, though I notice his eyes have grown much lighter.

In the room I sink onto the ground, sitting cross-legged. The carpet is deep red, but soft so there is no need to sit elsewhere. It is comfortable enough. "Zephar?" I call, but there is no need for he is already at my side. It is uncanny how he senses when I need him. He's probably been trained to be a guardian one day, but we haven't even been together for a long period of time yet. "How good are you at blacksmithing?"

"Fairly good. I can't compete with an experienced dwarfs' but I can definitely do better than most other kinds; I was the best on the Sacred Lands. Why do you ask? Making a blade will not convince him."

"Of course not," I murmur. But his skill can prove to be useful. He seems to have many hidden talents that do not show on the surface. "Can I see your hands?"

He holds them out to me without a hesitation, something I find a little alarming. Most, including elves do not tend to allow contact like these, because sometimes it reveals too much of one's personal secrets.

His hands are hard and calloused from working with the sword and from blacksmithing. Only little from blacksmithing, but the marks are there on his hands. Perhaps it will be enough. I take his right hand in both of mine, and run my pointer finger along the creases, and then up his arm, following the blue-green veins. I watch as his entire body tense and his eyes darken slightly. I rest my fingers at his shoulder blade, feeling and reading what he can create.

By the time I pull away, his eyes are a little darker, but not much. "What did you see?" he inquires quietly.

"Just where you learned how to blacksmith and the items you had made over the years. Tell me, how did you find a dwarf to teach you? They are stingy with their knowledge."

He flashes me a smile. "Sometimes, I sneak off for a little bit deeper into the forest by the edge and one day I met a dwarf. He is old and experienced from teaching lots of apprentices, and I convinced him I could learn fast and he agreed."

I nod and pull away from him as I stand. As interesting as his past can be, I have to figure out what to do now. I should not have been thinking elsewhere. He distracts me.

So what can I do? I am not sure what will convince the shape-shifter. I realize that I am pacing, and I as turn around, I see Zephar watching me, his eyes very dark. He is leaning against the wall once more, his body deceptively relaxed.

"You know," he says carefully. "You can distract him the way partners distract each other. You can scare him or entrance him without magic." When I don't respond, he continues on. "Your eyes for example. They usually make people uncomfortable but to me I think they're rather pretty."

"That's because you like the dark. You're a blood elf so you know why."

His eyes darken a fraction towards annoyance. "I am completely serious. Don't wear your cloak. Reveal your face and put on something proper for once. With the cloak you look like a dark shade or a death bringer, and when you're talking about war, that image doesn't really help."

"So what do you want me to look like? An angel in white to represent peace?"

"No." His bottom lip curls in distaste. "You know what I mean by proper."

I sigh as I stop pacing and sit in a chair.

His eyes soften, as does his voice. "I understand what you are doing now. I know you're trying to get allies for our people even though you don't need to. It is a good thing that you are doing, something no one else would have thought of, something that might just save all of us."

He comes over to touch my shoulder gently, the shoulder I have taken the hit for him. I need to stop thinking about that. It's a touch, a memory, nothing more. For some awkward reason the scene is still fresh in my mine, though it is fading. But the motion of touching his shoulder is becoming a habit for both of us it seems. That needs to stop. "You said you would do whatever you need to do. I admit, at first I thought you were just running away, but now everything makes sense. I'll help you if you ever need help, but there are some things you can and should do."

Zephar tilts my hood back, a gesture so familiar to me as if it is done only yesterday. It is all I can do not to flinch. "Why are you so afraid of showing your face? He has already seen you before so why bother hiding?"
"Mages and warlocks and witches – they like wearing their robes whenever they can."

He nods slowly. "I understand that. None of them hide under a cloak, and you know, many women and elves on the Sacred Land all wear dresses of all types even when showing their elements for the whole world to see. I don't know why anyone bothers announcing to the whole world what their element is."

"Because they are proud of what they are, as am I."

"What is your element? It is not black I do not think. There are five elements, with spirit being the more rare. Or perhaps being Light, the one not usually included."

"There is no need to think. The answer is right in front of you, but I only just realized it too. I am a ruins elf Zephar. I am an outcast. I am a magnet for death. I have an element. Darkness."

"That's why your eyes are so dark," he muses. He touches my cloak. "It all makes sense now. Everything, all except why the element of Darkness is never mentioned. But… maybe it's just the color of all four elements, not really darkness."

I stand up so that we are closer than ever. Purposely, I ignore his last comment because I can't really answer the end of his comment. No one in their right mind likes darkness, but what if what Zephar said is true? What if it really is just all four colors together? There are few ruins elves like me because such elves die so early in life so there is no one to ask.

I focus my attention back on the words that Zephar had said, and only the beginning. "So now you can understand why I don't take kindly to being ordered around."

"I'm not going to be ordering you around. I've been following your commands well haven't I? As of now you have nothing to complain about." He breathes deeply, taking in my scent. Or maybe I am just overreacting and he is just trying to calm himself down.

But I know the first signs of danger, and he is not bothering to hide the threat he possesses. Right now he's just letting me grow more aware of it. "You are dark. Aryan, you know that blood elves tend to really like following dark spirits around, waiting for a time when they mess up?"

"So tell me why," I reply. He is playing with me. He knows that I ignored the second part of his sentence. My heart beats faster. Zephar notices too much.

"Not quite the words I am expecting, but alright. When you slip up, I might just act like a vampire and instead of taking only blood, I might also take some of the dark energy you have." He taunting me. On purpose. I can't get distracted, but those enchanting green eyes have captured me.

A dark promise. I let a small smile tug at my lips. "You just explained why my father is killed. He is darker than a lot of elves. This just makes me hate you more."

His grin widens. "Good, you should be. If I weren't required to see you home safely, I have doubts you would have lived up to this point. Make some smart choices and make sure I don't regret leaving you alive."
"Cat and mouse? I suppose I will be the mouse that outwits the cat?" I need to stop this now. I need to refocus. I need to turn away… This is all just a game… a game that I do not have the luxury to play.

"We'll see," he murmurs with a dangerous grin.

I reach up and touch the side of his lip, the corner of his eye, and then his forehead. "Let's see if your memory is as good as your words shall we? I have no taste in dresses and you've probably seen more than me. Picture a few designs and pick the one you like." I step backwards, slightly to one side to avoid the chair and table behind me.

I know why he is asking this of me. At this point of time when I take the image out of his mind, I am vulnerable then. He can be using the time to learn about me so if I don't fit his purposes, he might just really kill me. I am being dramatic right now. I honestly don't know what he wants from me. But I am doing this because he does not know that I also get a chance into his mind. If he allows me in once, just to take an image, I can do it again if I so desire.

Stripping off the cloak and my outer clothes, I lay them to one side. His eyes are wide, probably because I agreed to his idea. I don't think it will work, but it doesn't hurt to give it a try. I touch his forehead again as I whisper a spell.

Silk falls over me smoothly, hugging my body. This is not something I prefer, but I suppose I can survive a few hours of this if other elves live in these clothes – though I can't understand how. I turn the sky blue silk into black and I leave it alone. I don't know the difference between a good dress and a shabby one, so I don't want to ruin it. But really, I am going to trip over my own feet dressed like this.

I touch my hair; it is no longer tied up like a horse's tail. Instead, it is cascading down past my shoulders and back. Sighing – like I have been doing too much of recently – I straighten out the tangles and tie it up again manually.

"You should've left it down."

He told me to dress up, and I did. Now he tells me to put my hair down? It is too long and once more I regret not cutting it short like his. There is no way I am going to put it down.

"It's staying up," I reply sourly. "Do I look fine or were you just playing a trick and making me look like a suffocating rat?"

"You look s- fine."

"Stupid?"

"No, seriously, you look good." He grins. "So that's one part done with, but how are you going to convince him?"

"How am I going to explain dressing up?"

"Just say you are trying to lighten the mood of the area."

I pull my cloak back on, my eyes daring him to challenge me. Tansar greets us with a mixture of uneasiness and interest.

"What can I do for you Aryan? I don't want to bring the topic of the war up," he says as he directs us to a few chairs.

I hang my cloak on the chair, feeling exposed. "Tansar, this war is all there is to talk about. My people are not all as outgoing as me but they are quite good. Even though I am the only elf you know besides Zephar here, good friends help each other out. Don't make me regret the time I spend here."

His hesitation is evident. I reach out and touch his hand, making him look into my eyes. I make my voice steely, "If you don't have the confidence to make the decision, then let me talk to your people and let them decide. Is this what you're worried about? Your people not agreeing with you? "

I break eye contact and look at Zephar. He is still sitting beside me, watching my conversation idly and not putting in a single word. I let the shape-shifter think for a little before I meet his eyes again. "So what is it going to be? Are you going to push our friendship and your debts behind and refuse me help? Or are you going to be honorable and accept my offer? I have been very kind to offer you the choice to let your raiders choose. I don't expect to be disappointed."

Tansar's mouth is open slightly as his mind fights to make the decision. He is trying not to take the third option, because he knows as well as I it will only add another debt.

"I'll let my people choose because it is their life."

I nearly sneer at him. If he really is a good leader, then he should be able to make the decision for the raiders and make sure all of them follow him, even if they don't agree.

"Fine then, gather all of the shape-shifters in the area where you held the festival last time. Zephar and I will meet you there." I stand and don on my cloak once more. "I certainly hope your raiders are not as weak hearted as you are." We leave him pale and uncertain.

Zephar does not speak until we are privately hiding in our room again. "Don't you think you were a little harsh on him?"

"No." Though maybe I did push too hard all at once.

"He is all pale when we left him. Now you're depending on his loyalty to not bad-mouth about you when he calls on all of the shape-shifters."

"Good."

"How is that good? Are you even listening to me Aryan?"

"Yes."

He comes over and removes my hood to search my eyes. "Your mind is elsewhere isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Stop it. Tell me what you plan to do when you are facing all of the raiders. I want to know."

I shrug. "You don't need to know. You don't even help. All you have to do is smile and wave when we get there. Does that sound simple enough or are you not capable of doing it?"

"I can do it fine Aryan. You were doing well enough without the need for my interference. It didn't seem to me like you needed help."

"Whatever. Let us head to the meeting place and convince all of the shape-shifters then." As I reach for the door, his voice stops me.

"Do I need to change into anything fancier?"

"You look fine enough. But if you must, I suppose I can help you. Picture what you want to wear." He always looks… perfect. Unfazed, undaunted, calm.

I give him a few seconds and touch his forehead. His other clothing disappear for a split second, crumbling onto the ground as new clean crisp clothes adorn his figure. I'm not sure what he is wearing, but it may be a version of a suit.

"Now are you ready?"

He nods. "Yes, I won't hold you up any longer."

I yank open the door with a little more force than necessary and walk with a fast pace to the podium in the middle of the room. I ignore Zephar and let my body still as I watch shape-shifters enter from the main entrance. I attempt to meet the eyes of as many as I can. None of them know what this is about, and so they only meet my eyes with curiosity. One however is filled with guilt and nervousness. Searching the face, I realize that it is Tansar.

He gestures slightly with one hand for me to begin. I whisper an enchantment so every raider will hear my words. "I have come here asking for help. My people are in war. Already, I have talked to your leader, Tansar, and he wants you to decide what you would rather."

The raiders whisper around for a little bit, just like I had expected them to. "What have you done for us that you can claim?" someone calls out.

"I have helped Tansar many times over the past. This time, I helped him survive an assassination and I also took care of them. Ask a few of your friends. A couple of them saw me. Another big one that most of you should know about is the raid we had a couple of days ago. The ones who went should all know that the fight is one that should have been lost." I continue on even though there are some whispers of outrage.

"Don't be foolish. The Minotaurs you fought were almost impossible to kill. If I had not done anything, you would be dead. Many of you have also seen me fighting the mages in the end. After that, I healed quite a few of the injured ones. I can be a powerful friend and ally, or…" I flick my hand, making my black cloak settle over me. "… I can be a terrible nemesis. It is your choice. You can finish your debts to me; you can repay me for saving your whole group. I helped, and I expect the same assistance."

I know that I appear much more powerful that Tansar, and that is something that is being considered too. A good leader needs to be feared and respected. I know some suggest being loved, but I know I can't be, so I don't bother. But I am a female. Perhaps I should have had Zephar say something.

And before they decide, I have one more trick to play. "Tansar, if it is just yourself that you have to decide for, would you help me?"
I have him trapped, and he knows it. "Yes," he admits.

Right there, I know that I just won a few more raiders to my side. "Well, anyone that opposes the idea of helping me and my kind in the war let your objections be known."
A few stand up immediately, but seeing that the majority did not, they sit back down. Cowards. But that's just reality, the way things really are in life. If the majority does not feel one way, some of the dissidents will not make their voice heard, and that further discourages others.

Tansar stands. "Aryan, you will get the army you require. It seems like most of us agree."

I snap my fingers and the cloak disappears and I give him a small smile. "Thank you Tansar. I knew that you would make the right choice." I hold my hand out to Zephar. "Let's go then. Thank you all for your audience."

Mentally, I cringe at my words. They are rough on my tongue, but they express the way I feel. 'Thanks' is a mortal word I detest because it lessens the favor by so much. I am not completely satisfied at the rate and speed they agreed to helping me, but it is better than nothing.

However, Zephar's improved mood is not lost on me as I call for our horses. My black steed trots over, his head up high, and each step flashy. I mount quickly, making him toss his head.

"Where are we headed next?" His dark voice is light as we leave the desert.

I smile slightly under my hood. "Some centaurs I'm afraid. The forests where they live are just a little ways from here."

He considers for a few seconds. "I suppose it won't be too bad."

"What do you have against shape-shifters?"
"I don't. I just don't like Tansar. He manages to irritate me every time and it gets worse as the days wear on."

Due to Tansar's reluctance to aid me, I am in quite a negative mode, so I agree with Zephar at the moment. Tansar is irritating when he is as stupid as a chicken for a few hours, and then as stubborn as a mule when he needs to do the right thing.

To me, Zephar is just a useful shadow so far, somewhat like a protective and worried mother. Or partner. For now. Later, I have little doubt he will start wanting control and urging me back to the Sacred Lands. When it happens, I will just have to leave him. The less annoyances on this little, or perhaps rather long journey, the better.

The horses know we are heading out of the desert, and so our pace is faster. They are eager to get more water and better feed. What can I expect? Food is a good motivator.

I continue to guide my black steed on with my legs, and as I do I swing my bag in front of me. Inspecting it, I see it is still stocked full of items I can use but there are also a few items I would like more of. It's been a long time since I last restocked this bag. Perhaps it is time for a little detour.