Greetings, readers. . .if you are still with me. For clarification: Anlë = Tal, and Círa = Ithylia. Same things, different names. I think those were the only really major changes. Also, in the second chapter: I looked over my map again and discovered that it was absurd to say Shimoyo could fly from her pass to Listilotë in only one day, so I've changed that as well. Anyway, we continue. Enjoy.
The Color of Moonlight, Chapter Five: The Rumors of War
Shimoyo curled up against the tree trunk, glad to be outside again. The air was hauntingly still, and every sound or movement seemed to echo ponderously through every corner of the city. No wind sang here, and there was little sound of water either from the vast magical lake above or the natural lake below. This place was suspended in time, every second the same as the last: tedious and quiet and slow. Yes, this city was graceful and beautiful, but it could not compare to the living, glowing, breathing glory of the outside world. Listilotë, the Elves' citadel, was dead; hidden and preserved by magic in an endless loop of time, lovely in death, yet still dead. Shimoyo shivered.
Her mind slowly turned to the choice before her and her race as she drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The proposition of leaving was inconceivable; the seraphim had no idea whether or not they would have any power at all in the outside world, let alone if they would be able to survive outside Círa's boundaries. Shimoyo cringed slightly at the memory of the burning pain that had ripped through her. Would something like that happen again out there? She was nearly certain she could not survive another attack like that.
A sudden sloshing sound and a scream of alarm in her mind shattered any traceable line of thought. The silver canopy above her began to ripple and swirl angrily, and a chill ran down the seraph's spine. From trees and buildings around the city, Shimoyo saw glimmers of white wings and flowing clothes as startled seraphim emerged from their discussions. The barrier above became more turbulent, and all eyes were fixed on the disturbance above as a large black shape became visible in the water, headed straight for the city. Shimoyo saw a glint of amethyst, a flash of a sinuous, reptilian black body—and then every sound completely disappeared into a void of unnatural, absolute silence.
Anlë pulled the flashing blade away and spun to counter yet another sword. The battle was fully joined, and cries of pain and triumph rang through the forest among the horrified trees. The elf kicked his attacker away and ducked under a swing from a heavy broadsword. The sword thunked into the tree, and Anlë quickly got rid of his opponent before the human could recover. Anlë's battle senses were as sharp as ever, but under his feet he could hear the earth screaming. Every cut, gash, drop of blood, death, was agony; he felt it too, just as the earth and the victim did. His senses alerted him only in time for him to duck under a slim, spinning blade that buried itself in the tree by his head. Anlë stood, carefully withdrew the dagger, and ran his slender fingers down it, being wary not to touch the razor edges he knew to be poisoned. It was deadly, elegant, sleek, and perfect for throwing. Anlë swallowed, apprehension rising in him. This was no human weapon…
Shimoyo gasped for air, as if she were suffocating in the never-ending stillness. This was more than the usual silence of the dead underwater city or a simple uncomfortable quiet. The world around her had suddenly become void of sound; it was as if Shimoyo didn't have ears anymore. She couldn't hear her own breathing, the constant trickling of water, or the rustling of the trees and her clothing from her panicked movements. Air streamed into her lungs, calming her only slightly, but the quiet pressed against her temples like a pair of hands, squeezing rational thought into mere bursts of insight. Shimoyo swallowed and forced herself to remain calm. She had experienced this before, but the lack of sound played with her current fears and insecurities to make it many times worse than before.
The black shape drew closer, and now, almost directly above her, the lower surface of the lake above began to curve in, still resisting the oncoming intruder. That intruder had no time for the lake's protests, and Shimoyo caught a glimpse of pearl-white cone shapes and a spark of purple fire before the lake surface exploded, spilling a torrent of water into the city along with the long, dark shape. Shimoyo covered herself with her wings to deflect the main force of the water and pushed out with her mind, creating a curtain of falling water all around her. She stared in shock as the lithe black newcomer fell past her in a dead fall, the water that cascaded down with it stained an iridescent purple-black. Shimoyo's tree trembled as the intruder crashed and tumbled soundlessly through the branches, finally falling free of them and flopping lifelessly across one of the dull white pathways, its long tail dipped in the slowly moving waters below. The very instant the giant lizard stopped moving, sound returned like a draft of clean air, and Shimoyo automatically took a deep breath, hearing the air enter her mouth and the drip-drip-drip of the water on the wet leaves.
For an unending moment, the dead city sat still as its few inhabitants stared at the black intruder in apprehensive shock. The creature made no effort to move, its huge wings draped around it as if to shield it from the world, the wingtips resting in the water. The delicate-looking membranes stretched between the thin, fingerlike wing supports were scratched and even torn in a few places from the fall, but other, larger holes and even burns also scarred the fragile skin. Its body was twisted in a near-grotesque way, but Shimoyo had seen these creatures move before--if a long time ago--and knew that such a position was not outside its range of motion. The long, tapered tail and snakelike neck were both stretched out, showing a little of the metallic scales on their undersides. The skin was covered in small black scales, no longer glittering with the iridescent purple hues that most had. The creature's four limbs were long and powerful, tipped in long toes tapering down to curved black talons. The head rested on its side, a long jaw half-open to show sharp white teeth and the scaled eyelid slitted just enough to let through a glimmer of deep amethyst. A thick, blackish liquid dripped into the lake's clear water and stained it like ink, dissipating from black to purple.
Slowly, the seraphim began to emerge from the buildings, flying cautiously towards the lizard's still form. Shimoyo opened her wings and glided like a giant hawk to land by its head, a safe distance from the long neck and bladed jaws. She approached warily, until she found the courage to kneel by the streamlined head. The purple eye was at first still, then turned with agonizing slowness to look at her. Inside the rows of white teeth, a black tongue moved slightly. Shimoyo would have jumped away, but then a sound came from the creature's throat--a sweet, painfully sad note, a solitary echo of helplessness and pain with an underlying tone of urgency and supplication: a single word in a beautiful, unlearnable language. Help. . .
Shimoyo felt that desperate note pierce her heart, and she had to bite back the tears. She gently touched the ridge above the eye, surprised at the smooth, soft feel of the scales. Without a word, she stood, spread her wings, and took off straight up into the still air, leaving her fellows to tend to the creature as she labored for altitude until the air caught her wings and bore her back to the council tree.
Anlë ran through the trees as fast as he could go, searching for the people he knew should be here--if they could be called people. He couldn't feel them like he could normal living beings, and that was how he knew it was them. They had no life, no elanli, no true magic, and that void of being was what led him to them. He could feel others, too, closing in on him, trying to lead him away, moving into attack positions. Their stealth, however, came from their ability to melt into their surroundings, and that meant nothing to Anlë.
He paused in a clearing, only slightly out of breath. The sounds of battle had faded as he ran, and now only faintly could he hear them behind and to his right. He turned his head, alert, blank emerald eyes wide, searching with his mind. He knew they were here, but they were better at hiding than they had been before. Anlë gritted his teeth, and his emerald eyes narrowed. They had been allowed to live before, partly because of him. Not this time.
Ikaeldor was bored. Killing his enemies was quickly becoming tedious. Not that the Elves didn't fight back well and bravely--disgustingly well and sickeningly bravely, really--but they were too easy to predict. He knew where'd they be strong, where they'd be weak, how they would respond when he attacked their weak spots. There was no fun in it anymore. The first war had been interesting, if even more simple; it had ended too quickly for Ikaeldor's liking. He had only been young then, a mere fifteen, when they had taken the Elven city in the East. His blood-colored eyes narrowed. A success, yes, but only for a time. The Nephylim hadn't expected to find their Opposites there. Ikaeldor straightened, shrugging his crimson-streaked wings. The Opposites had caused the Nephylim's first true defeat, but they were, after all, Opposites—both annihilated each other. There was no combating an opponent that could destroy you simply by attacking you, and the knowledge that they would die as well held no comfort.
The Nephyl looked around in icy disdain at the soldiers resting underneath dark trees. The force he had here was pathetic--nothing compared to the army that had taken Listilotë, sweeping over the icy northern reaches of Círa's protective mountain shield and diving upon the unsuspecting city below. He allowed himself a small smile at the thought, pale red lips twisting upwards into an expression of cruel satisfaction. Every Elf in the city and the realm around had been slaughtered in a near-successful attempt to wipe out the Elven race. The Elves themselves helped that goal--one of their own had destroyed most of the Elves' main force as they were engaged in battle with half the Nephylim and most their allies. What had they called him, he who had both stolen the Nephylim's near-victory and almost obliterated his own race? Ikaeldor sneered at the memory of clear, Elvish voices chanting his name: Ereston, Lord Ereston. He was an Elf-lord, mighty but unable to control his own powers. He was most likely long dead by now; the Elves' pathetic 2,000-year lifespan could never match up to the Nephylim's immortality.
A shadow slid up next to Ikaeldor and bowed slightly, taking shape as a cloaked and hooded humanoid shape. Ikaeldor inclined his head in returned, near-black scarlet hair sliding past his shoulders. The hooded figure spoke, his voice deep and emotionless as cold stone. "Our soldiers are overcome. We ordered a retreat. One followed us here and nears us as we speak."
Ikaeldor's crimson eyebrows lowered in dangerous disapproval. "Followed you? How?"
The hooded messenger remained unmoving, as if he was carved from the same black rock his voice spoke of. "We do not know. He evades our attacks and comes closer. He will not be drawn away."
"Then he is foolish. Let him come. It has been long since this war held any amusement for me."
The messenger bowed again and melted into the shadows he had come from. Ikaeldor smiled again, only a twitch of the mouth. Maybe this war would turn in his favor after all.
"It's an aeroc [dragon], nereth."
Lúmë had not stirred from his position at the tree trunk in the center of the council room, wings wrapped tightly around him. He nodded slowly, his grey eyes closed. "I know."
"It's. . .badly injured."
"Yes, it is. It has come to ask for our help."
"Why would the aeriech need our help? They haven't asked for it since the First War," Shimoyo wondered, feeling very young and small. She could still hear the echo of the aeroc's plea ringing through her mind.
"Because something has gone wrong," Lúmë said, opening his eyes slowly. "Something has gone wrong, and it is worse than we thought." His eyes met Shimoyo's, and something in them told her a little bit of what he dreaded.
Shimoyo took a deep breath and nodded, her decision made. "I only hope the others understand the same thing."
The aeroc lay on the pathway, his wounds expertly bandaged and a meal well on its way. He lay in a state of half-wakefulness, hardly aware of the winged beings that surrounded and cared for him. Every muscle ached, but it was a dulled, buzzing ache, diluted by the flaming pain of his injuries and the nothingness that lurked in his mind. Finally, the aeroc surrendered to the blackness, whispering a last, sweet trill before his mind slipped into unconsciousness.