Is there somewhere we can go?” Ba’ith threw him a lazy, crooked smile that positively oozed a promise of raw, sweaty, primal sex. “Somewhere a little more private?”
The white, ethereal mare ran at break neck speed along the wide cobbled road that led to the elf city, hidden from the prying eyes of the world by powerful enchantments. It almost seemed to take flight for a few moments as it passed over the crest of a small stone bridge that arched over the flowing crystal clear waters of a small creek that no one had ever felt was important enough to name. It landed on the winding road that twisted and turned almost artfully through the picturesque woods full of tall trees that basked in magically induced, eternal spring and stretched toward the sky until their extensive boughs formed a roof over the forest.
The early morning sun filtered through the canopy of leaves, bathing the entire area in liquid gold and bear cubs roared in frightened protest at the mare’s swift passing. Their protective mothers gave chase for a small way but the rider and horse passed so quickly that they soon disappeared from view and the aggressive animals were left far behind.
The slight figure robed in simple blue, perched precariously yet masterfully in the saddle and urged his mount to an even greater speed. A break in the thick canopy of the forest roof allowed the rider a refreshing glimpse of the pale, watery blue sky against which the sea blue and gold spires and aqua hued flags of the elf city that only its inhabitants could see, loomed in striking contrast.
The white mare whinnied excitedly and ate the miles that separated them from their home until finally they slid to a halt at the tall golden willows clipped into graceful cone shapes that lined the road which led to one of the city’s imposing gates.
The rider flung a blue clad leg over the horse’s back. He slid forward in the saddle until he could drop from the considerable height to land lightly with booted feet, onto the manicured lawns that surrounded the entrance. Dodging the decorative gardens that dotted the fenced grounds, he slid his cowl back from his head and long gold-white hair cascaded down his slender back until it brushed the top of his buttocks.
Another elf was waiting for him at the gate and he recognized his friend immediately. She was chatting animatedly with the guards, her hands swept in wide gestures that punctuated her point or underlined a joke. Her fashionably bobbed midnight black hair hugged her petite face and her long ears sagged as she spoke with as much expression as her hands. She lifted the skirts of her tight fitting blue robes which were the same as the rider’s, and which also marked them both as healers.
She ran down the cobbled path, her softly glowing sapphire blue eyes twinkled playfully. “Arsha! I knew you would be on time!”
Arsha chuckled silently as he always did, despite how happy he was to see his long time friend again. He held out his arms to catch the excited bundle of elf that was hurtling toward him. “So you haven’t been waiting for long Neika? That’s a relief. I’d hate to have to listen to you nagging me after having not seen you for so long.”
Neika pouted and furrowed her long, delicate eyebrows. “That’s entirely unfair of you to say such a thing Arsha. Just because you get all of the exciting missions’ abroad while I am left here to co-ordinate the training of novices, it’s no reason to get all snooty on us.”
“Ah, if only I were you! Able to stay at home in this glorious city, getting drunk on all things arcane and magical…” Arsha held the slighter woman at his arm’s length and looked her up and down under a raised golden eyebrow, “…Getting delightfully curvaceous!”
Neika’s pointed chin dropped open in outrage and her almond shaped eyes flared wide. She slapped his arm lightly and then giggled. “I’m so glad you are back to keep my flagging ego even more deflated.”
Arsha lifted her delicate hand and hooked it through his elbow. “I have to do something to remind you to extend the hospitality of our fair city. I’ve been off fighting armies of loathsome trolls and ogres on the borders for months, with little more to defend my self other than my bare hands, and you leave me standing out here…alone…cold…nagging when you should have immediately spirited me off to the nearest inn and showered me with wine, and delicacies and smoking hookahs!” He smiled and hefted his heavy pack higher onto his shoulder as they began to walk.
Neika rolled her eyes dramatically and then she quickly arranged her features more pleasantly to wave and smile invitingly at the blonde, ramrod straight city guards as they passed through the keyhole shaped entrance of the elf gate. “You are such a baby! First, you never drink or smoke, and second, you were surrounded by gorgeous, beefy hunters and archers who no doubt fought each other to protect you and your considerable charm. What, are you complaining about?”
“Now you are the one fibbing! You know I never bother with hunters, archers or anyone else, gorgeous or beefy or otherwise. I leave such pursuits to those more inclined to chase them. Namely, you!” Arsha’s eyes twinkled playfully and he poked her exposed ribs with his forefinger.
Neika tried to dodge the assaulting digit and laughed loudly, drawing the attention of the guards once more, much to her delight. “Ow!”
Arsha pulled the giggling elf against him and slid his arm companionably around her slim shoulders. “You look well. I’ve missed your antics dreadfully. You must tell me everything!”
Neika’s eyes glowed brighter as they passed through the dim oval shaped hall that would take them into the city, but once they stepped into the light of day, her eyes were narrowed seriously. “Oh you know, it’s always the same here among the socialites…Plots, currying for favour, murders, and then more plotting and favor seeking which leads in turn to even more murders.” She tried to smile. “I’d much rather hear about your wholesome adventures and tales of honorable fighters who defend our decadent way of life!”
“As long as said fighters are gorgeous and beefy, right?” Arsha winked slyly.
“Of course! I don’t care if they are really stubby little dwarfs. As far as I am concerned, all military elves are gorgeous and massive and hung like donkeys!” Neika laughed again.
Arsha chuckled and bowed. He lifted Neika’s hand graciously and pressed his lips to her fingers, “For you my love there will always, only ever be masculine, entirely drool worthy fighters in my tales, and dwarves shall ever remain figments of the Gods’ twisted imagination!”
Neika dropped a small playful curtsey. “But you must tell me everything in explicit detail. I want to hear how you excelled on the field and knowing you, you will insist on playing down any part you played when no doubt you saved the day!”
“You flatter me.” Arsha lifted the hem of his heavy robes to ascend the wide marble stairs that would take them to the city spire.
They could already see it towering imposingly, dominating the skyline. The refreshing yet soothing sounds of cascading water greeted them almost immediately upon entering the square, even before the magnificent waterfall in the center came into view above the railed terrace.
Arsha smiled, despite his aching cheeks. “Tell me, has the cloister replaced the resident cook who held the position when last I was home?”
“Yes! Thank the Gods!” Neika squeezed his arm, “I don’t know about you, but it seemed that everything he cooked gave me gas!”
Arsha chuckled with amusement at his crass friend as well as with relief that he didn’t have to worry himself about farting after every meal anymore.
“Oh, I need to warn you. Captain Dwin’Aer appeared unannounced yesterday so be warned.” Neika shuddered.
They walked companionably, arm in arm along the crimson carpet that marked the way to the entrance of the Spire where the city’s leaders both worked and resided. Two rows of guards stood stiffly at attention, their sapphire blue eyes slightly averted as the pair passed between.
Arsha wiggled his eyebrows at Neika and bent slightly to whisper conspiratorially in her long pointed ear. “If anyone ever did find the city through the enchantments that hide it, they’d never invade with those personality oozing hunks of man meat guarding our walls.”
Neika chuckled admonishingly under her breath and gave his arm yet another light slap. “Stop it!”
She arranged her features pleasantly as she always did when she caught the eye of a beefy guard, and fluttered her thick eyelashes.
Arsha saw the offending male smile slyly in Neika’s direction and he cleared his throat meaningfully. When he in turn, caught the guard’s lustful eye, he frowned and raised a disapproving eyebrow. The guard blinked and looked quickly away.
“I can’t believe you did that Arsha!” Neika’s jaw had sagged to show just how incredulous she thought the actions of her chuckling companion were. “Do you know how long it’s been since I last managed to pull a decent fuck?”
“Let me guess…a couple of days?” Arsha blinked rapidly as they stepped into the dim interior of the spire in an attempt to clear his eyes.
“I said a ‘decent’ fuck.” Neika giggled.
Arsha shook his head and gave a small, resigned smile. “You are incorrigible.”
“That’s why you love me!” Neika slipped her arm around his tapered hips.
“Yes, it’s just one of the many reasons why I do.” He pressed his lips affectionately against the crown of her petite head and then turned quickly when he heard fast, efficient sounding footsteps approach.
“Uh oh!” Neika stiffened fearfully as an imposing elf that easily stood at least a head taller than most, walked briskly and purposefully toward them. She took a few small, alarmed steps to stand behind her friend’s unflinching body.
The elf was fully armored in shining metal and oiled leather, and he was glaring at Arsha from beneath his stern midnight black eyebrows. “Arsha Ethal’Ualmara?”
“I am he.” Arsha inclined his head slightly in a gesture of acknowledgement and respect as required in the presence of a superior.
The elf halted before him and shifted his weight smoothly onto one leg. His massive chest was puffed out pridefully and hair the same black as his brows spilled from a severe pony tail that rose militaristically from the top of his head. The muscles in his jaw clenched impatiently as he rounded his gaze on Neika, who couldn’t bite back a small frightened ‘eep’ beneath the hard glare. “Don’t you have some work to do Neika? Or guards to drool over, or something?”
“Y-yes Captain.” Neika lifted the hems of her robes and all but ran away from the two men.
Arsha watched her sprinting up the curved ramp that led to the upper floor of the Spire and then he returned his calm, unflinching gaze to the arrogant elf beside him. He hoped that the instant dislike he felt wasn’t obvious in his expression but he doubted it would be. He knew that most people found it hard to tell what he was thinking and he suspected that for all his superior carriage, Dwin’Aer would be no different.
The captain’s eyes narrowed almost viciously and he curled a lip. “I’ve been waiting for you. You were supposed to arrive yesterday evening.”
“Yes captain. It was late when I reached the Archer’s Outpost at the edges of the province so I took the opportunity to rest there for the night since I had been travelling almost continuously for three days. I wanted to arrive today, refreshed and ready for duty.” Arsha’s nose wrinkled as a scent that he could not identify but which was strangely familiar wafted from the captain.
“Oh, did you now? Your orders were to return here directly.” Dwin’Aer’s lips had peeled back in a sarcastic sneer and his eyes were vicious.
Arsha nodded and the corners of his lips turned down slightly in an expression of indifference. “My orders were to be ready for duty today. But my apologies, captain, if I misunderstood.”
Dwin’Aer clenched his jaw irritably and he looked away impatiently. “I find excuses incredibly boring. But you have wasted enough of my valuable time. Follow me. There are things we need to discuss.”
The captain turned efficiently on his heel without waiting for Arsha to answer, and led him to a small room off the main circular area of the spire. They passed through gauzy curtains that were draped over key shaped doorways that separated a labyrinth of chambers that led to other small rooms.
The vibrant hues of the violet and sea blue décor reminded Arsha of how much he loved his native city but despite this fact, he preferred the simplicity of his healer’s quarters. He was eager to return to them but he wouldn’t get the chance to do so until his working day ended at nightfall.
Dwin’Aer held open an arched door that led to a private room and he indicated for Arsha to enter before him with an impatient sweep of his arm. “After you.”
Arsha stepped over the threshold, slightly puzzled as to why the captain had led him to such a secluded chamber. His curiosity escalated into unease when the captain closed and locked the door behind him. He resisted the urge to swallow hard when the far larger elf rounded on him with an unreadable expression. He doubted though, that the expression held any positive intentions.
Captain Dwin’Aer reached beneath his skin tight chest piece, wincing slightly with the effort of doing so. He fished around for a few moments and then he pulled out a white scarf, which he then presented to Arsha, ensuring he held it so that a small red thread that was sewn into the fabric to resemble a random strand of lint was exposed.
Arsha’s eyebrows shot to his hairline with surprise and more than a little relief. “Buach? Buach Farall?” He dropped his hands guiltily to abruptly halt the defensive spell he had instinctively begun to summon.
Dwin’Aer winked and smiled. The previously stern expression he had maintained melted away like chocolate left out in the sun. “Shhh.” He tucked the white scarf back into his tunic.
Arsha smiled incredulously. “How did you manage your disguise? I had absolutely no idea!”
He had fought beside the elf before him, who was really a human in disguise, in two wars and they had maintained their friendship during the brief peace in between and since. It sometimes happened that he was given covert tasks by the mysterious human assassin, not often, but it was not unheard of. Mainly, it involved him merely keeping an ear out for any interesting information.
Buach reached for the elf and pulled him into a tight, gruff embrace. “Heh, trade secret. How have you been keeping?”
“Very well, my thanks. Oh, what’s that smell?” Finding himself engulfed in the same offensive aroma that he had detected on Buach earlier, Arsha recoiled and wrinkled his nose. “It’s disgusting!”
“Ah. Must be the potion of disguise I used to transform into a pompous bastard.” Buach raised a self-conscious eyebrow. “The Gnomes who invented it still need to refine the formula I see. Is it that obvious?”
“You reek of stale magic!” Arsha waved a hand in front of his face in an attempt to disperse the fetid air. “You’ll have to be careful of that around my kind. We can sense the arcane better than a shark can detect blood in an ocean of water! But do tell, what brings you to our fair city so mysteriously? Not that you ever appear in anything other than a ‘mysterious’ manner.”
“Oh, nothing official, I have more of a personal favor to ask you, really.” Buach rested his hands on his hips and bit his bottom lip nervously as he always did when something worried him. “I hate to ask you to do this, but I have cause to believe that one of my ‘associates’ here is becoming a tad unraveled.”
“Doesn’t sound good.” Arsha furrowed a concerned brow. “Of course I’ll help what would you have me do?”
“Just keep an eye on him for me? Let me know if you think he is out of his depth? His name is Ba’ith. He is contracted to Allyscha Elensar, do you know of her?” Buach shifted his weight smoothly onto his other leg.
Arsha grimaced and gave a slow nod. “Yes. Vain, ruthless, sadistic, thinks nothing of eliminating anyone she considers to be her rival – real or imagined – by any means at her disposal.”
Buach gave a grim smile. “Aye. From Ba’ith’s reports, you have described her to a ‘tee’.”
“I can see why you are worried about him in that case. She is the vilest of the vile.” Arsha chewed the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. “By all means, I’ll do what you ask but in truth, Buach, if Ba’ith is an elite assassin and my guess is that he is, to be a member of your organization, I doubt I will even see him.”
Buach snorted wryly. “Considering your timely arrival and position here at the Spire which places you in a perfect position among the cities military elite, I don’t think you will have to worry about that. Before long, our boy will seek you out. Just make sure you keep your association with me strictly hush-hush when he does, ok?” Buach tapped the side of his nose and gave the elf a loaded wink. “Have you still been observing the rising dissent of the elves toward the human nations?”
Arsha blinked and swallowed uncomfortably. For some reason, the thought of being sought out by an elite assassin from what was fast heading toward being an enemy race didn’t instill him with a lot of faith. “Yes. Not much to report though. Sadly, the sentiment increases as each day passes but the movement ‘for’ a continuation of the alliance between our two nations is just as strong. Still, you know us elves. We tend to sit on our hands for a long time before we act.”
Buach nodded thoughtfully. “Well, be safe and carry on as usual. One small favor before I go?”
“Dispel my disguise? It’s incredibly uncomfortable walking around as though I have a carrot shoved up my arse.” Buach winced painfully.
Arsha chuckled and released a glowing spark of magic that swirled around Buach’s body, rising from his feet to his head until he was a High elf no longer, but stood once more in his human form.
“Ah, that’s much better.” Without hesitation the stocky black haired, bearded human raised his hand over his head. He dropped a handful of sparkling powder and vanished. “Oh, and before I go, the real Captain Dwin’Aer was on his way to deliver your orders to you before I took the liberty of rendering him unconscious. It seems that you are to sort through the Spire’s extensive archives and discard anything that is no longer of any value.”
Arsha blinked. It was disconcerting to hear a voice speak from what appeared to be thin air and then he curled a sarcastic lip when the assassin’s words registered. “Oh joy.”
Buach’s deep chuckle floated from nowhere again. “I thought you would be pleased about that! Anyway, must run before the alarm is raised. Dwin’Aer will be regaining consciousness soon and I would think he will be a tad pissed to find himself relieved of his armor and left to lie hidden in an animal’s feeding trough.” There was a dramatic pause to give Arsha time to chuckle. “For the alliance!”
Arsha inclined his head in both agreement and respect, “For peace.”
Arsha heaved the cumbersome crate full of shredded, defunct parchments that had accumulated in the Spire for over a century. It was one of dozens that he had already sorted through over the previous week and still, it seemed that he had barely scratched the surface of the colossal task he had been given. I must have pissed someone off but good, to be stuck with this! He thought.
He glanced around the city main, taking in the magnificent water fountain, the rich colors of gold and violet that decorated the white stone of the buildings, and the flags that snapped in various shades of purple from the very tops of the spires. Classical strains of cello and violin floated on the gentle breeze to his long delicate ears and he sighed. It was all beautiful, and all so depressing. The square was absolutely empty, not a single soul was about and he found himself longing for the excitement of battle.