Liessen carefully followed Aredhel through the jungle. She was travelling fast and making no effort to hide her presence and he frowned at her reckless advance into known enemy territory. What was she thinking? He realized the Dragons had done a good job of sterilizing the area, but he could tell there were still some Demons wandering free in the forest. He was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a time when his people would be free of the scourge that continued to threaten their existence.
As Aredhel walked past the hiding place of two Demons, they jumped onto the path. They had heard of female warriors amongst the Elves before, but had never seen one in the flesh. They could hardly believe their eyes when she drew a twin set of blades to challenge them. Surely she couldn’t be serious? They couldn’t stop the mocking words that came out of their mouths.
“So what do we have here?” The first Demon laughed.
“Looks like a female Elf pretending to be a man.” The second Demon snickered.
“We are going to have fun tonight.” The first Demon replied a moment before he died.
Aredhel had no use for arrogant men, and the fact that they were Demons made them doubly easy for her to kill. The first Demon died quickly as she thrust her short sword into his heart and the second one followed just as quickly when he hesitated because of the shock he felt at her attack. She made a quick job of quietly singing their bodies into the ground so no one could sense what had happened in this location, then moved on in case there were others in the vicinity.
Liessen grinned as he watched Aredhel in action. He approved of her fighting style. She didn’t waste time on words or posturing and she hid her trail well after making her kill. The few traces that were left behind were not enough to make anyone wonder what had happed in the area.
The only thing Aredhel did wrong was when she walked away from the battle scene without checking to see whether the Demons she had killed were alone, or whether there were more hidden close by. Liessen made a mental note to talk to her about that sometime in the future. An Elf could get killed if they took no precautions to guard their back. Aredhel had no way of knowing someone was covering for her and he thought her actions careless as he watched her walk away.
The female Demon in the foliage who had waited for Aredhel to turn her back to leave didn’t have time to realize she was the one who was in danger. Liessen slipped into the space behind her and quickly slit her throat, then quietly sang her body into the ground as she sunk to the floor of the jungle. He didn’t wait for her to finish dying, he had a Life Mate to protect and she was moving further away from him with each second he wasted. He completed his cleanup routine, checked for more enemy forces and swiftly followed Aredhel’s path.
When Liessen thought about how many years he had spent following Aredhel into Garoldth’s lands without suspecting who and what she was, he could only laugh at his own ignorance. She was an extraordinary warrior and he gave Gabriel high marks for training her so well. If she were a Dark Elf, she would have been good enough to be in his Elite Guard. He grinned wider as he revised that thought. If she lived in his Kingdom she would not only be an Elite Guardian, she would have been his captain, and a permanent fixture in his bed.
Four miles later Liessen was cussing what he considered Aredhel’s carelessness as he dispatched another two Demons. He caught them stalking her as she continued onwards. He knew this wasn’t the way she usually travelled through this territory. She was never reckless when she was on one of her quests, and he wondered what was going on in her head to cause the distraction. Had she made the same connection with him that he had to her? He could see how something like that would disrupt her usual pattern. It was definitely having an effect on him.
Aredhel had a suspicion someone who was not a Demon was stalking her. To be certain she set out a few feelers, but got nothing back in return, and that didn’t make any sense. She knew there had been two Demons following her for a while, but they seemed to vanish close to the time she thought they would be getting close enough to be a possible problem. When she ran a trace on them she found nothing, absolutely nothing, and that didn’t add up either. There should be some trace of them. Demons didn’t disappear into thin air, so where did they go?
Aredhel didn’t like the jungle that had taken the place of the tortured forest that used to occupy Garoldth’s Kingdom. Nothing seemed normal about the area she had gotten used to travelling and she wondered if that was the result of the Dragon magic that had been used to create it. She sent out a wide net to try to locate whoever was following her and waited for the information to come back. She found three Elves and six Demons within a fifty mile radius of where she was and none were close enough to suspect they were following her.
The first Elf that she located was approximately two to three miles behind her and he was busy closing in on a Demon. There were four more Demons further back and she was sure they were far enough from the others to be unaware of the danger. The two Elves traveling further back were together and were just leaving Daroth’s lands. They were headed in the same direction as she was, but that meant nothing, as they were too far away to be following her. No one was close enough to give her a reason to suspect anything wrong.
Liessen killed another Demon and as he sang him into the ground, he decided to check on where Aredhel was, as well as the location of the other Demons. He couldn’t believe how many of the enemy still seemed to be scouting the area. He was going to have to talk to Serenity about a clean up detail when he got back to Daroth’s Kingdom if he found many more of them. He stretched out his net and immediately located Aredhel on the trail ahead. She had either stopped to eat or rest, and he considered that fortuitous as she hadn’t given either of them time to stop since they began traveling through the jungle.
As more information came back to Liessen through his trace, he pulled a few pieces of dried meat from a pocket and began to eat. He located a small band of Demons traveling behind him and a couple of Elves heading in the same direction. There wasn’t much more activity going on beyond the few Demons and Elves he had located. Garoldth’s land needed life and he wondered if there were any lakes or marshlands nearby. He could spare some of the inhabitants from his Kingdom if Garoldth was interested.
Armed with the knowledge that there were no signs of danger ahead, Aredhel decided to pickup the pace. The thoughts that ran through her head were that the quicker she got to her destination, the faster the prisoners could be rescued. She wondered what kind of shape they would be in when she found them. The first group she had rescued had been above ground held in cages, and they had barely managed to crawl to safety. Not one Elf had complained because they said there were others below in a lot worse condition. She had been making random rescue missions ever since.
Each trip had unearthed more information about the atrocities the prisoners had endured and that kept Aredhel planning for the next rescue. She was concerned about the health of the prisoners and realized that she should have brought along some helpers. She hadn’t been thinking about things like that when she decided to leave on this quest, as she had been too angry to consider what she might have to do after she had freed any Elves who had been captured since her last trip. There was one left that she knew of and she was determined to rescue him.
Meeting her father face to face for the first time in her life had thrown Aredhel a curve she hadn’t expected. She had never expected to feel the things she did, nor had she ever thought to actually meet her father in any of the musing she often indulged in. She always figured it would be a simple matter of hating him because he had abandoned them. It didn’t quite work out that way. When Gilraen had called out to her, warning her about whom she was fighting, she felt like throwing her sword down and running into his arms. Their father had come home.
Gilraen hadn’t had any problems accepting their father and he showed every sign of being as shocked and confused about learning about them as she felt about meeting him. Why did life have to throw curves like this at her? She had tried to kill her own father, though she had doubts that she would have been able to. He had met every one of her blows with ones of his own and had shown no signs of tiring, which told her his moves had been defensive and no more. He might have eventually disarmed her, but he would never have hurt her.
She was ashamed of her reaction when she had discovered who he was. She had followed her first instinct, which was anger. She was angry that he had abandoned her, angry that he had left her mother in the condition she was in and more than angry that he was such a good fighter. She knew he was a master warrior because she was one of Gabriel’s finest pupils and still she had been no match for him.
The look on their father’s face when he found out he had daughters was enough to bring her heart to a standstill. Garoldth had looked saddened, stricken, shocked and disbelieving for a few moments, until he looked closer at their features. She could tell then that he could see the truth of their identity stamped into their features, for they looked a lot like their mother, Tári.
The moment Garoldth had acknowledged them he had reached out to embrace them, but she couldn’t accept the truth of what was happening. It was too fresh, too much to take in all at the same time. He had come back into her mother’s life and she knew Tári would open her arms and her heart and welcome him home. It wasn’t that easy for her, she didn’t believe like her mother did, she couldn’t. The hurt was too deep.
There wasn’t a doubt in Aredhel’s mind that her father was overjoyed to find out he had a couple daughters. He wore his feelings on his face, he was proud of them and it was this that had shattered her resolve to hate him if they ever met. How could anyone who looked so proud and loving at another be doubted? He made her feel precious and in a fit of hurt anger she had thrown all he had offered back at him.
If she would have controlled her feelings as Gabriel taught his students, she would have gotten to know what it was like to be held in her father’s arms. She would not have stalked off in a huff to sulk in a corner like some spoiled brat who hadn’t gotten her way. She wouldn’t have felt this need to prove her worth by going into the jungle to attempt to rescue more of the prisoners the Demons had in their possession, as well as the one they still held deep in the tunnels.
To be honest, rescuing the prisoners from the brutality of the Demons was not something Aredhel regretted. She had made several successful forages into the lands behind the portal before and she had a feeling she was developing a reputation, but she had never gone into the mountain before. The prisoners that she had rescued during her last campaign had told her horror stories about Elves who had been kept in the deepest reaches of the cave systems for hundreds of years. At first she had doubted their information. Then she had seen the window Gilraen made. She knew she couldn’t sit back and leave that poor Elf to suffer anymore.
Gilraen’s window was one of the most beautiful, fascinating and shocking pieces of artwork Aredhel had ever seen. She remembered the first time she saw it. Gilraen had stood beside the frame as she walked up to the glasswork to touch one of the panes. It was so real she had to make sure it was not something from a nightmare. Gilraen had surprised her by going into one of her little trances as she ran her fingers over the textured surface of the glass and spoke.
“There will come a day when you will travel into the mountain where he is being held prisoner and you will find him at the bottom of a very deep pit. He will be close to death and willing to reach out to embrace the promise of peace it offers. You will help thwart that desire and for a while he will hate you. There will, however, come a day when he will rescind that sentiment and embrace you in gratitude. You will not be alone in this quest, there will be others who will make the trip by your side.”
Aredhel remembered asking who would be with her. Gilraen answered her question with a vague remark.
“There will be many who come to guard you, but you will know none of them. Each, however, will always have a special place in your heart from that moment on, for serious deeds breed close friendships and what you do as a collective unit is very dangerous as well as heroic. You will be saved several times during your journey by very special Elves.
Gilraen had done her fainting routine after and their mother had come to help Aredhel move her to her sleeping place, so she could sleep off the effects of the prophecy. Gilraen was a lot like their mother that way, both needed rest after using their seer powers.