The Chronicles of Valana Volume 1: Shadowlands

by AB

Chapter 6

So it begins

War will come to Valana, it will spread from the Shadowlands to Valana.

Blood and destruction, no one can avoid the destruction.

War's wrath will spread, where will loyalties lie when it spread s.

"Concentrate young one! Move to the left to avoid the hit and parry with your dagger." Feldon told him.

"It has been a month! I cannot do this! I am not good at close combat. Give me a bow, magic, I can blast you away before you even know what happened…but "this" – Aerandil said pointing to his dagger and between him and his mentor indicating the closeness between them- is not something I can learn…apparently." He said frustrated.

"You have been training for only a month, I have been training for longer…much, much longer, you'll not learn it in a day or in a year or maybe even not in a decade but you will. Now, again!" Feldon said and launched at Aer'andil.

It had been a tiring month. He had started training the day after he had learned of who he really was and Feldon had not let up for an instant. Sometimes Aer'andil did not feel he was being trained to fight a war but for more.

His father sat outside the training ring and observed them. It was not usual, but sometimes he liked to see his son train.

Less than two move s later, he was down on his stomach, Feldon towering over him.

"Oh for…what do I need close combat lessons for ? I have magic and I have my bow and arrows…" Aer'andil said frustrated, as he got up from the training ring floor and dusted his hands.

To top it all off, during th e past whole month he had barely seen Lucas, the twins or even much of Micraal.

Lucas had started training in the monastery the S peakers had in the north ern, remote part of the island that only the kings of the Elves, or other Speakers, were allowed to enter.

In fact, that part of the island became an island of its own for half the year as tidal waters covered its access to the rest of Qazameria, leaving it stranded. The Speaker monks that lived there permanently had to live off what the sea provided during that period.

Qazameria like the rest of the Elven isles enjoyed a fairly calm winter, with a spring - like summer. Winters were never too cold and summers never too hot so the Speakers of the Althon' ianalos, or warring spirit in the tongue of Dara, still ha d access to Qazameria during the tid al months but they preferred, and enjoyed, their solitude.

Lucas had only managed to come back to Ilandri for a day or two a couple of times and then he had been completely exhausted. He had not been in the mood for anything other than small talk, and sleep.

The twins had been sent to Dol'Adur. The E lves of Dol'Adur liked to change into rabbits and other small mammals. Why his father had sent the twins there, Aer'andil did not know.

Micraal had been sent to Dol'Anro, land of the wolves, masters of stealth and cunning. Aer'andil could understand that choice by his father.

Aer'andil was frustrated, disappointed and still angry with his father. Above all of that though, he was insatiably horny and no matter if he jerked off ten times a day, he just couldn't seem to find relief.

"You think so? You think that magic, or a bow and arrow alone can win you any and every fight? Very well…attack me with any means you deem sufficient of victory." Feldon said, as he stood non-threateningly with his hands on his hips. His left hand held his wooden training sword.

Aer'andil looked at him and in a blur of a movement, he plucked an arrow from his quiver, set it to the bow and fired. Before the arrow had a flown a meter, the bow rested back on his shoulder and he was casting a spell.

Just as the thunder ball escaped his fingers, he saw the arrow sh a tter into pieces on an invisible barrier and his thunder ball dissipate into thin air. Before he could understand or analyse the situation a strong hand had wrapped around his neck.

The next thing he knew, he was lifted off his feet and brought down on his back i n the dirt. He felt wood touch his neck. When his eyes focused, he saw Feldon standing over him, his wooden training sword's tip touching his neck. Feldon showed no emotion.

"If I were one of the seven Generals of the evil that resides in the shadowlands, you'd be dead. If I was anyone, or anything, else other than your mentor and teacher, you'd be dead. Just because you defeated some raiders and a few animals does not mean you are ready for war. O r for skilled, trained soldiers whose only desire and thought and profession is killing. You will train in anything I command you to until I say you're ready. You will do this or you might as well take a dagger and slit your throat now because whoever is leading the enemy armies will kill you. Very slowly and very painfully if it…he, gets his hands on you." Feldon was not angry, his voice was steady and calm, but his eyes left no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation, of just how serious he was.

"This is not child's play Aer'andil. T here will soon be war in Valana, and you and Lucas and anyone who is with you will be right in the middle of it, behind enemy lines. You will all have to fight for survival. No one will give you quarter, or mercy, and there will be no room for hesitation. I owe your father too much to let you die, so get up. We will continue training in close combat melee until you improve." Feldon said. Releasing his neck, he grabbed him under his arm pit and lifted him to his feet as if he weighted nothing.

Aer'andil was stunned on so many levels. Not only had his magic and bow failed him but also Feldon had easily knocked him out. Feldon's words also caused him to worry.

"You may wield a bow and magic but you must still keep your guard up." Feldon told him. "If you can't protect yourself physically, then I shall also teach you how to erect protections of magic."

"Erect…hehe…" Aer'andil giggled but his giggles stopped instantly when Feldon 's gaze pierced him. Feldon's eyes always seemed to contain pain in them.

Feldon was completely different a teacher from Merol. Where Merol would force one to learn on his own, by instinct and punish insolence, Feldon took the time to demonstrate and explain what was needed. He was as strict as they c a me but fair and compassionate. Still, he had his moments when Aer'andil wanted to kick him on his E lven butt.

"I wonder…will you laugh like that when an enemy soldier has you by the throat and is ready to gut you with his sword like a farm animal?" Feldon asked calmly, but did not wait for an answer.

"Do as I have taught you. I will attack you. Defend yourself." Feldon said and took an offensive stance holding a dagger and short sword.

Aer'andil bent his legs and his leaned slightly forward bringing the hand with the dagger in front of his face, holding the curved edge outwards.

Just as Feldon attacked, he saw something at the edge of his eye that caught his attention.

He turned his head an inch, something inside him urging him to look at the person who had just approached the training ring.

He turned and froze. There stood a boy. An Elf boy. He didn't look older than about twelve and Aer'andil, if he had to guess, would have made him around one hundred and sixty centimeters tall and weighing about fifty kilos. He was wearing light blue silk pants and a shirt with long sleeves and various yellow ribbons crisscrossing his torso, tying here and there. The garment had a hood as well that he was not wearing. He had short grey hair, the clearest cyan blue eyes and an almost button nose with tight lips forming a small "M". He was lean with lanky, coltish legs and even though he was completely covered by clothes, Aer'andil could tell that he was athletic and not scrawny.

To say that Aer'andil was instantly smitten by the boy, would have be en an understatement of epic proportions.

Just as the unknown boy smiled at him, Aer'andil felt pain spread across his cheeks and stomach and he doubled over in pain.

"Never remove your attention from the battle, from your enemy. They will not be yielding weapons made out of wood." Feldon spoke to him calmly.

"Fuck! Agh! Now I'm angry!" He said getting to his feet. He concentrated on Feldon. When Feldon moved, he saw his hand feign, as if he'd raise it above his head but in truth he was bringing it down while his other hand was kept at his side.

Aer'andil waited until the last possible second and then sidestepped to the left of the hand that was going to attack him and pushed it away from him. Just as he was going to stab at Feldon, he felt pain in his neck.

Feldon had anticipated his move and had made a half turn following the direction of the hand being pushed away whilst with his other hand, he had stabbed at his student's neck.

Aer'andil staggered back coughing.

"Better. Much better, but just because you avoided one attack do not think that your opponent is defeated. B efore you make ready to attack them, think to cover your flanks and sensitive areas. Now attack me." Feldon said, catching Aer'andil by surprise.

Feldon walked a few meters away from him and stood with his hands at his sides.

Aer'andil paused for a second contemplating his move. This was just as m uch about strategy as learning moves of magic, parrying, deflecting, attacking and defending.

Then in a blur and a blink of an eye, he moved. He brought one hand almost behind his back as if to steady himself and the other in front of his face.

Feldon dodged his dagger attacks one after another without even using his hands. Then, as he dodged a slashing attack to his thigh, he had barely enough time to see Aer'andil bring his other hand from behind his back with a move as if he wanted to slap him.

"Vorag'salath" Aer'andil almost yelled and the wind around Feldon's face ignited in a flash of flame.

The boy that had come and sat outside the training ring, jumped up looking worried for a second, before sitting back down as Feldon's face appeared through the fire and smoke.

"Too predictable! You really think I would not expect a creature of fire would use fire magic?" He said as he raised his hands to strike Aer'andil with both sword and dagger.

The smirk on Aer'andil's face took him aback.

"No. I was counting on you raising shields of magic against fire!" He said and in the next moment, Feldon stopped mid-stride as if he had struck an invisible wall.

He fell to the ground as Aer'andil's voice filled the air.

"Droilin, trialo'droilin" He said and a thunderous stream of water came gushing from his hand straight at where Feldon was.

Then he felt pain again along his ribs. Feldon had used the momentum of the fall to roll back and move out of the way, before the water could hit him. Side stepping to the right, he had attacked Aer'andil before he could even understand what was happening.

Once again, he found himself on the ground coughing in pain.

"Unexpected. Good trail of thought but two serious mistakes. Do not get baited so easily, and do not announce your strategy before you execute it. In addition, that wall of air was unnecessary. If instead, you had hit me with the water, you may have succeeded in what now you have failed to achieve. However, you are learning…fast. Now…defend yourself." Feldon told him, looking almost pleased.

And so they continued training for what seemed days but was, in fact, for four hours more.

Then, as Aer'andil went down again, Feldon saw an elf run towards them. She was wearing the traditional cape and hood of the messengers of the Elves, green all over to camouflage against the grass and trees. She was obviously heading to the Royal Palace.

"Good day upon you my fair lady. W hat message do you bring to our kings?" He asked her. She had not intended to stop, but seeing the High-King sitting on a bench outside the training ring, she paused and made a bow towards him and then to Feldon.

"Varania has fallen." She said looking at the High-King. Feldon looked shocked, Liandras looked sad but not as if, the news were unexpected.

Liandras got up and straightened his clothes before, once again, addressing the messenger.

"Lolleyan, send emissaries to all the Kings of men and Elves T ell them that they are to attend a war council in eleven moon cycles from now in Glinthala, capital city of Gel'anr. War is coming and we must prepare." Liandras said, the messenger bowed and left.

Liandras turned his head to Aer'andil and Feldon.

"You are to come to Gel'anr tomorrow when I leave. Your training shall continue there." He said to them, looking worried.

"What about my friends?" Aer'andil asked angrily.

"They will join you in Gel'anr when their Mentors consider them ready." Liandras said calmly.

"Whatever." Aer'andil threw over his shoulder to his father as he stalked off.

Feldon left the training ring and stood next to his High-King. He saw him sadly shake his head slowly, his hands now crossed in front of his chest.

"He loves you. You are his father and he loves you more than he can admit even to himself but he's been through a lot in the last few months. He still has much to adjust to. He'll come around sooner or later, my King."

Liandras turned his head to look at him and with a nod and a sad smile, left for the Royal Palace.

"So it begins. The prophesy is well under way. We cannot turn back the tide. Some will not survive it, some will fight it and I…I may have to make my name reality… " He thought as he walked away.

Aer'andil spent the rest of the day at the archery range, firing arrow after arrow trying to calm his angered soul. When that did not work, he went outside the city and used any magic he had learned in the last month on rocks, boulders and other objects he knew would not be hurt by his spells.

When he returned to Qazameria's Royal Palace for the night, he felt calm. Doing physical activity like this was his way of thinking things through and had been ever since he could remember.

The sun had just come up from behind the horizon when Feldon woke him up.

There was a buzz of activity around the castle, servants coming and going, preparing for the High-King's departure.

"How am I supposed to follow you all since I can't yet transform into a white phoenix?" Aer'andil asked some time later when they were outside on the landing by the Royal Palace gardens.

The High-King grinned and with a whisper of something that Aer'andil didn't hear over all the commotion he transformed into a Griffin.

It was strange seeing a humanoid creature like the High-King transform into a quadrupedal animal like the Griffin.

It didn't happen fast but it wasn't slow either. Liandras bent forward as if he wanted to grab something that had fallen on the ground. H is hands started shape shifting into huge eagle claws, his muscles and bones and skin changing, bulging, transforming, his legs changing into lion 's paws, his clothed body chang ing into the rear of a lion and the body of an eagle, the silk of his garments changing into feathers and fur. Wings sprouted from his middle, just behind the front legs.

The last to transform was the head and the face as they slowly took the shape of an eagle's head, with a large, yellow beak and penetrating eyes.

The Griffin-King let out an eagle's cry extending its wings to their full length and then bowed forward.

Next Aer'andil saw several other Elves transform as well into birds of all kinds but mostly hawks and eagles.

"Wait, doesn't my father change into an eagle?" Aer'andil asked confused.

"Yes, but your lineage can change into any animal you see another elf change into." Feldon told him and bowed his head and shoulders ever so slightly and then, walking up to the large beast, he climbed up behind its wings.

He motioned for Aer'andil who walked up to his transformed father and, with some apprehension, climbed up in front of Feldon.

He was starting to wonder as to why the High-King was not taking off, when he saw the boy from the previous day come closer to them Feldon helped the boy mount the Griffin and he sat in front of Aer'andil.

The boy turned his head and gave Aer'andil a warm smile making him feel all giddy, warm and fuzzy inside. B utterflies roll ed inside his stomach and h is throat went completely dry.

Aer'andil was lost in the depths of those cyan sparkling orbs, and he did not mind in the least.

"Uh…ehh…why are you coming with us?" He asked the unknown but gorgeous boy when he found his tongue.

The boy giggled. "Norion Anorion is my name, my mother is in Gel'anr and my father is sitting behind you. Left behind, I don't think it would be a good thing for me or my parents." He said in the softest of voices.

It took a moment to register but then Aer'andil nearly screamed, "Feldon is your father?!"

Norion nodded smiling. He took hold of Aer'andil's hands in his own and looking forward again, he brought his hands across his waist and placed them above his navel.

Aer'andil was taken aback by this but he did not resist or remove his hands. Truth be told, he would need to hold on to something when his transformed father took off.

Liandras started running and then, with a jump and a flurry of movement from his wings, they were off. Next to them on the left, the High Queen in her Crane form, and surrounding them were the other Elves he had seen transform into h awks, e agles and other species of birds.

Unlike his father's golden feathers and plumes these eagles were either black or brown.

When Liandras jumped to take off, inertia had brought Aer'andil's head to rest on Norion's neck. Since the boy did not complain, Aer'andil kept it resting there. The closeness of Norion made him feel safe, warm and happy.

It was an uneasy feeling riding on the back of a flying creature as he steadily gained altitude above Qazameria.

"So what do they call you?" Norion asked Aer'andil. If he were not an Elf Aer'andil would not have been able to hear him. It wasn't a windy day down on the ground but up in the clouds, while travelling on a winged creature, it was a different matter.

"My name's Aer'andil. Your name…it means beautiful…existence?" He a sked, his throat dry.

Norion giggled and shook his head, "No…but close enough. It means beautiful essence…but in the elfish tongue those two are closely related…" Aer'andil thought that the name suited him, for in his eyes he had never seen a more handsome or beautiful boy in his life.

Norion wiggled around to get more comfortable on the Griffin's feathery back. The movements made Aer'andil's member to twitch and start growing.

He tried to stifle a moan.

"So…what animal will you transform into when you grow up?... H ow old are you for that matter?" he asked Norion as he tightened his hold around the boy's waist.

Norion giggled, "I am twelve, but I have lived for forty two years. When the time comes, I will be transforming into a black panther. Is it truth that you'll be able to transform into a white phoenix?"

"Y…yes…I guess so…" Aer'andil hesitated stunned at hearing Norion's age.

"That is brilliant! There have not been phoenixes, white or otherwise, for tens of thousands of years if not more. Natural-born or elfish transformations."

"A lot more." His spirit spoke to his mind. "But the world is changing." Aer'andil ignored it for now.

"But…I…ehh…" Aer'andil paused not knowing exactly why Norion's age bothered him or why it caused him such nervousness.

"What is troubling you?" Norion asked him. He had not missed the sudden change in the young prince's behaviour.

"I.." He gave a sigh and looked Norion from behind him. "You are so much older than me." He said looking down.

Norion giggled.

"You are thinking still, like a human. Thirty-eight years is nothing for an elf. A blink of an eye. And in this blink, we are both not even teenagers."

"We are…I am…we…I am twelve years old, you have lived for forty eight. M y body feels like that of a teenager, my mind does…my…well Ifeel like a teenager…" Aer'andil said getting frustrated.

"Arrow of mine, calm the storm inside you." Norion started and placed a hand on Aer'andil's catching him by surprise. "You will not enter proper teenagehood until you reach four to five hundred years old. Start thinking like an elf or you will forever be in a storm."

"Oh…" Aer'andil said. Everything was quiet for a while until Aer'andil spoke again.

"Are you good with a specific weapon…or…" He was interrupted as a gust of wind made the Griffin-King maneuver in a way that made them jump slightly, as if they were riding a horse that had cleared a jump. The result was that Norion's very cute, teardrop shaped behind pushed up against Aer'andil's crotch giving him an instant erection that he could not rearrange or…alleviate.

They both blushed in different shades of pink and red.

"I am good at magic…but not attacking…I like to support and heal…on the other hand with Feldon as a father, I know more than I let on in a training session or a fight." Norion said.

"! I am good with bow and magic. But your father is trying to get me to improve my close combat skills." Aer'andil told him.

"Cool? I guess it is cold up here." Norion enquired unsure of what his friend meant.

It was Aer'andil's time to giggle.

"No…it's an expression from the other world I lived in for the past few years. It means, nice or great."

"Oh…weird expressions that world has." Norion remarked before laughing. His laugh sounded like a spring stream running through the pebbles. It made Aer'andil feel lightheaded and warm inside.

"Yes, you don't know the half of it." Aer'andil said joining in with Norion's infectious laughter.

They continued talking until Aer'andil noticed something coming towards them from the north and east. He focused his eyes and understood them to be some kind of black-feathered creatures. He did not know how he knew but he knew that they were not coming towards them with good intent.

"Feldon, look! There! What are they?" He spoke to his mentor and guardian.

Both Feldon and the Griffin-King's heads turned to the direction in which Aer'andil was pointing.

Almost at the same time, Liandras started flapping his wings against the cool air speeding up and Feldon spoke to the rest of the Elves surrounding them.

"Felun, Nastral balos evi Lanastra. Lonar, Eerl'ian nil Tholon valom evi Thalin. Evi navo ial oal Xadothlo nil Gadralo Tharvi."

Aer'andil did not understand it all but he understood enough of the Elven tongue to know that Feldon had told them to guard the King and Queen. T he others were to break off and attack the incoming assailants.

"Nadral, Efiron, you are no warriors, break off and head to Gel'anr. S ound the alarm and get help." Feldon said to two of the birds that were neither hawks, nor eagles, and could clearly not fight the black-feathered creatures that were coming their way.

The transformed bird-elves broke off on Feldon's orders.

"Who are you, that you know so much and can give orders to seasoned soldiers?" Aer'andil asked, in awe of both Feldon's strategic and military knowledge as well as the fact that every single elf, the Queen and soldiers included, followed his orders without hesitation.

"No one. Not anymore only a soldier who has seen war and atrocity and has survived."

"Are you the Commander of my father's armies?" Aer'andil asked.

"No. Someone much more knowledgeable than me is. E nough questions, they come." Feldon said in a rush, as some of the creatures broke off from the fight with the transformed Elven warriors and were coming their way.

"I have no bow or arrows…what can I do to help or fight?" He asked.

He felt pressure on the back of his head before he heard the sound of skin impacting skin. Feldon had smacked him on the back of his head.

"And are you also bereft of the use of magic?" Feldon asked him calmly.

Just as Aer'andil was ready to complain about the slap on the back of his head, he closed his mouth shut blushing profusely at the obvious mistake.

"Harpies? Those things exist?" Aer'andil said as the ugly, wrinkled-faced, black-feathered, sharp-clawed creatures came closer.

"Yes, I believe that is what I said earlier in our language. Now use your magic and protect my only child." Feldon said as he launched a magic spell towards one of the harpies.

The harpy avoided the icy missile and launched, talon s first, at them.

A few meters from them, it stopped abruptly as if it had hit an invisible wall and fell downwards before flapping its wings to regain altitude.

"Giakakalo!" It said in a high-pitched voice and the "wall" that was surrounding them shattered like glass.

"Oh bollocks! These…things can do magic!?" Aer'andil exclaimed in stunned surprise.

"Yes, now attack!" Feldon said.

"Kolstro'arilth!" Aer'andil whispered and extended his hand in the direction of the harpies.

Bright blue thunder erupted from his fingertips. It headed towards the harpies.

One was hit straight in the chest, bursting into flames a s it started to fall downwards to the sea's surface. The rest had managed to fly away from the center of the thunder but just as Harpies turned to face them the air around them exploded, small explosions filled the distance between them and the Griffin king.

The harpies attacked screeching and flexing the talons on their feet and the claws on their hands. One of the explosions caught one of the harpies ' wing s. It didn't cut it off but it was wounded, with dark blue blood trickling down the black-coloured feathers.

The harpy screamed in pain and launched at Norion. At the last moment, Norion whispered the word for protection and a shield of blue light encircled the Griffin-King. The harpy flapped its black-feathered wings to stop f ro m falling on to the shield. That left it defenseless against other attacks. Feldon, having seen this, clapped his hands together and then separated them while shouting "Yadrol'larith". It was as if the very air between him and the harpy froze in a blink of an eye. The magic spell engulfed the harpy turning it into a solid block of ice that fell down to the sea.

Norion cast another, different spell of protection that when attacked upon, "pushed" back the attacker. Not very useful in ground attacks but clever up in the air.

Two more harpies attacked them, one going for the left wing of the Griffin-King and the other for Feldon.

"Hold on to something!" Feldon yelled.

Norion and Aer'andil grabbed on to the Griffin-King's feathers just in time, for the Griffin-King made a swift turn, folding his exposed wing close to his body and banking to the left. The harpy did not have enough time to decelerate as the Griffin-King opened his large eagle beak and closed it around the base of her wing. With a pull of his head to the opposite direction, the wing came clean off the harpy's body. She tried to claw and grab on to something but Liandras banked to the right and then, unfolding his wing banked to the left again, essentially slapping her downwards with his wing.

The other harpy continued its attack on Feldon making him dodge and bend his torso, neck and head. Then, as the harpy launched yet another attac k, he twisted his body to the right to avoid her talons and with one movement, unsheathed his sword and brought it upwards in an arch.

The Elven made sword, gleaming in hues of blue and silver, made a swooshing sound as it cut through the air before slicing off both the harpy's legs and half the pelvis, as if it had cut through butter and not a creature of flesh and bones.

The harpy fell to its death in ear-splitting screeches.

"Prepare yourselves! More are coming!" Feldon yelled as the shores of Gel'anr appeared on the horison.

Liandras rose higher in altitude to catch the more favourable, warmer winds and bring some distance between them and the oncoming harpies. He flew as fast as he could but it was obvious they would soon catch up to them.

Feldon turned round, now back-to-back with Aer'andil, and steading himself with his thighs and knees on the Griffin-King, he started murmuring and whispering, chanting fast.

Just as the harpies got closer bolts of energy, shaped as arrows, started shooting out of nowhere.

The harpies were not close enough to be in danger but it did serve to keep them at a distance and prevent them from getting any closer.

Feldon released the spell just as Aer'andil gave an excited scream.

"Eagles! I see more eagles and hawks coming this way from the island's shores!" Feldon turned his head and focused his stare on the shores of Gel'anr. There, he saw almost half a battalion of transformed elves, com ing their way fast.

The harpies saw the Elven warriors come, and with a screech of frustration turned and started flying away.

"Thel evi Felirias! Thel endiron!" Feldon yelled in triumph.

"Thel evi Felirias! Thel endiron!" Norion yelled grinning widely.

Aer'andil understood what that meant, and seeing Norion's enthusiasm and sweet smile he found himself yelling it in spite of himself emotion and spontaneity taking control.

"For the King! For honour!" He cheered the soldiers flying around them.

The bird-soldiers made a circle surrounding them.

Gel'anr as Aer'andil saw, was different from Qazameria. Whereas Qazameria was mostly flat with pastures and tall trees in the center, Gel'anr was mountainous with trees everywhere. Tall trees, short trees, but trees as far as the eye could see.

The landscape beg a n to change beneath and in front of them as they left the sea behind.

At first, it was beaches, gulfs and coastline s of white rock and conifer trees reaching the sea's edge. Then as the Griffin-King flew higher, the trees changed as the elevation changed.

The colour of the rock and mountain changed as well to a black, grey and ground mix of colours with the mountain peaks white from the settled snow. They could not see the rivers below, covered as they were from the vegetation but they could hear the water thundering as it fell from one waterfall to another.

Then Aer'andil saw it lingering in the horison, seemingly hanging from the edge of the mountain. Glinthala, capital of Gel'anr looked like it was floating in midair, on top of the mist created by the descending water from the waterfalls and low-hanging clouds. The sun's rays made her gleam like a city covered in fairy dust.

As they approached and the finer details begun to emerge out of the background landscape, Aer'andil could see the city, in several layers, built one on top of the other with pools and waterfalls dot t ing the landscape, as well as huge trees. The cliffs had been burrowed into so that the buildings could be built in what was otherwise, sheer vertical rock.

Aer'andil gazed at the city, following the buildings of various shapes and sizes made from marble of different colours. Ornate carvings of wood and stone, and roads carved out of the cliffs' edges connect ed hanging bridges made of wood and stone, all the way to the peak of the small mountain where a large building stood. He guessed it to be the Royal Palace.

Unlike Ilandri, Glinthala didn't have a few trees here and there with a singular waterfall. N o ! Glinthala was built in a forest, with rivers, streams and waterfalls everywhere, seemingly all dug out from the cliff face and mountain slo pe s.

By the time they landed in a clearing with blue and orange tiles creating elaborate shapes on the ground, Aer'andil was simply awed by the architecture, and the craftsmanship, of the creators of Glinthala. His jaw hung open slightly in amazement of what his eyes beheld.

The High-King transformed back to his Elven form and stood up straight.

"What did you think of your first flight Aer'andil?" He asked his son.

"It was great! Ifelt so…free, but why did those creatures attack us?" He asked looking back and forth, between his father and Feldon.

"As was said in flight, they are harpies. They are mildly magical creatures with a severely unpleasant attitude, and greedy disposition. All in all, not something you want attacking you in packs." Feldon said.

"It was two hundred thousand years ago that they settled on the island chain of Tel'Naro, after killing off a human-Elven outpost. Twice the humans tried to remove them. T wice they fell to their deaths on the treacherous, rocky shores of the islands. The harpies are useless on the ground but, as you just discovered my son, they are quite different in the air." Liandras told Aer'andil.

"They have a matriarchal society. T he females rule, hunt for food, engage foes and the males raise the younglings. The Queen rules all with absolute power and voice." Feldon continued.

"Sometimes they will attack a human village if they don't see strong enough aerial defenses, but they have not attacked a single elf in…nearly two hundred thousand years. Since sometime after they settled in Tel'Naro." Liandras took over.

"What happened then?" Aer'andil asked excitedly. He always loved history classes back on Earth. L earning about what had come before in the world, the various important figures, events that had shaped the world and so on.

Liandras chuckled, caressing his chin with a hand.

"They attacked a convoy of Elven ships, killing a few and injuring others. On board were the children, and wife, of King Hatalos, King of Qazameria. We educated them on the magnitude of their error. A fleet of ships, under K ing Ulthrel of Dol Anro, full of twenty thousand archers encircled the islands of Tel'Naro and sho t down any harpy coming to and fro m the islands. No less than fifty thousand bird warriors, under the command of High-King Ianothlorin, attacked the islands head on inflicting grave damages to their population. Males, females, any and every harpy was slain. High-King Ianothlorin slew their Queen himself with his spear, Glamfladrin.

"However, we were not without loses. In fact we had mounting loses that, in the end, made High-King Ianothlorin, injured himself, sound the retreat. The message was clear though. Attack us at your own peril. They have not attacked a single elf since then." Liandras finished talking.

"We have to respond to this latest grievance against you and your family, my King." Feldon said looking at Liandras.

"No. We cannot now. We will need all of our soldiers for what is coming and we cannot sp are anyone for the killing off of a few harpies. We will have to deal with them after the war. To attack Tel'Naro from land and sea would be tantamount to disaster incurring devastating loses on our part. The Kings of men will not spare us soldiers for this endeavor either and I have to ask them for soldiers to help us in the war against Zah Dah. The only way to attack Tel'Naro successfully is from air, and Gel'anr cannot spare a single soldier these days. However, have the Commander of the army of Gel'anr, Endiron Teluviel, increase the patrols on our shores." Liandras said and started transform ing in to the eagle that Aer'andil had seen him as in Qazameria.

Feldon made a bow and started walking away from the square.

Looking around the square clearing, Aer'andil saw four statues had been placed there, one for each of the directions of the compass. All statues were of women and all looked regal.

"Who are they ?" He asked Norion, indicating the statues with his head.

Norion took him by the wrist and walked him over to the northern statue.

Norion gazed at it for a few seconds before talking. The statue was made of white marble. Her face was proud and beautifully carved. Her hair was carved in to a bonnet with a crown of daffodils on her head. Her hands lay crossed in front of her bosom.

One of them was holding a long-sword. She was wearing much the same type of garments that the High-Queen was wearing. If real, they would have been out of embroiled silk of some colour or another with a veiled hood for the head.

However, unlike the High-Queen, she was also wearing pieces of armour on her shoulders, breast and hips.

The sword too, was made partly of marble. The pommel and cross-guard were made of marble, as was the grip. The blade w as made from silver platted steel with r unes carved it.

"She was High-Queen Menthral, daughter of Fingoril, of the line of Glothoin…your line." Norion said looking at him for a few seconds, as if measuring something in Aer'andil's eyes.

"She reigned roughly six hundred thousand years ago. She was one of the few warrior Queens of our people and, during our darkest time, she prevailed against the darkness of her time and held our people together. She was the founder of Merthana, c apital city of Dol'Adur, which started as a fortress against the Marauders of Telara. A city of men encompassed by evil. Telara fell, and was abandoned but Merthana stood the trials of time and now thrives. High-Queen Menthral was proud in life, victorious in battle and just to her people. "

"Her blade was lost in battle. The battle was won, but the High-Queen was never the same after the loss of her most prized weapon."

Norion allowed him a few moments to look at the exquisite craftsmanship of the statue and then they walked, hand-in-hand, to the western statue.

The statue in the west of the tiled square looked completely different to that of High-Queen Menthral's one. Except the marble, and the fact that it was of an elf - woman, there were no other similarities.

This statue looked sad, her gaze focused on the ground instead of the horizon. Her hair carved long, below her waist, covered most of her back and front. Her hair blended into the carving of a long dress that covered the rest of her. The skill of the sculptor had made her face almost come to life, with her smooth cheeks, curved nose and sad eyes.

She held her hands in front of her belly and between them was a scepter. Even made of marble, Aer'andil could understand that, in reality, it would have been made from some kind of wood. The texture of the wood was carved in every minute detail into the marble. It twisted around itself as if it had been braided together, and in the upper end it h el d a large diamond like stone. N ot a real one, but it would have been an impressive stone in reality. Whatever magic spell had been applied to the stone, it made it sparkle as if it were real. She too, wore the crown of daffodils on her head.

"She was Glidarathon, daughter of Vedaron. She was High-Queen one hundred thousand years ago, or so. The history books tell of her kindness, and her gentle nature. They tell of how she loved life, all life. She loved to sing to animals and flowers. Her voice was as clear as a spring stream, all would gather to listen to her songs, Elves and animals alike. Even the trees would bend in the direction of her voice. "

"During her reign the black fever broke out. It started from the East and came via the ship of men, and the trade they provide d us. The black fever would have devastated our people. However, High-Queen Glidarathon was not renowned only for her voice and love of life, but for her healing abilities as well. "

"It took all of her ability but she created a cure for the devastating disease, saving not onlYour people from devastation, but the humans as well. However, her accomplishment was not without sacrifice, for the black fever took three of her five children, her husband and her mother. She is also known as the sad Queen." Norion paused for a moment and squeezing Aer'andil's hand gently, he gazed into his eyes.

"Unfortunately her scepter was broken. The two parts are stored in the House of Memories."

Aer'andil looked back at him a warm smile adorning his lips. There was no need for words to express what both boys felt beginning to grow deep inside them.

Next was the statue to the south of the square.

This was of a man. A warrior, as his armour betrayed, but a king as well. Aer'andil saw the crown en circling his head. Elderflowers carved on pine tree bark. The bark twisting in and out on itself around the King's head, like infinity symbols knotting together with other infinity symbols.

His hair fell to his shoulders carefully and meticulously shaped into interwoven braids.

The man looked stout and sure of himself. His characteristics making him appear fearless and ready to spring to life at any moment and battle the foes of Elfdom. One hand was placed on a great - sword that h u ng from his waist, while t he other hand rest ed on top of the sword hand.

The sword's pommel was fashioned like a cross with flat trigonal endings. The blade lay hidden inside the scabbard but Aer'andil could imagine it being covered with elven runes.

"He is High-King Malaroth, son of Ianothlorin. He ruled one hundred and fifty thousand years ago, during the times of turbulence. He is one of our most famed warriors. Valiant in battle, fearless in war. J ust and kind to his people, and to his family. He was a reformer. R eshaping traditions to match the new times and creating new laws to make our society better. His greatest achievement in battle, the one that earned him the title "Evi imo loth'irni Dathol" or the o…" Aer'andil interrupted him.

"The one without fear." Norion nodded his head in the affirmative. Aer'andil grinned at the confirmation. Learning the language of his people was not easy but it made him happy that he was getting there.

"Was during the Matalok campaign…" Norion saw the blank stare in his friend's eyes and understood that he did not know what that was. "The Matalok campaign was named after the leader of a mercenary group that became too powerful during the times of turbulence. He thought to remove the Elves, as they stood in the way of his ever - increasing hunger for power. Twice he made an effort to invade our fair islands. Twice he, High-King Malaroth, thwarted his plans. Finally, he managed to gather an army and marched from the northwest, from his citadel of Igrandi, now in ruins, with thirty thousand strong. "

"By the time the information reached his ears, High-King Malaroth knew that he had no time to assemble the armies and wait for human reinforcements. Therefore, he gathered his personal guard and met them on the western shores. With the rivers Lavorn and Astorn providing natural borders and obstacles to Matalok's larger army. High-King Malaroth only had one thousand strong. The battle lasted for seven days. On the eight h day High-King Malaroth detached Matalok's head from his shoulders, his army disintegrated in to shambles and rout ed in all directions. The High-King's sword is legendary. Made from silver-blue steel, it gleams during the night and the runes etched on the blade had the sole purpose of making it a human-killer. It is said that it sang in to the High-King's mind comforting him during the battle."

"Raya'lath is stored in the House of Memories, available to all who want to see it along with many of our treasures and famed weapons of ages past." Norion finished talking and made a small bow of respect to the statue of the long dead High-King.

"You mentioned this before, w hat is the House of Memories?" Aer'andil asked him after imitating his bow.

"It is a building on the outskirts of the city where all of our treasures lie. B ooks of old, important weapons and armour that once belonged to great warriors, Kings and Queens of the Elves, h eirlooms of ages past. It also houses t rinkets that have sentimental value to our people, i tems with powers that should not be unleashed unto the world."

"So…it's a museum and a library?"

"I do know what that…museum is, but yes the House of Memories also has a library, o ne of many in Gel'anr and the Elven isles." Norion said raising a brow at the unknown word.

Aer'andil understood that the people of Valana, Elves and men alike would not have museums or the culture behind them. Even on Earth, they had not made their appearance chronologically until well after the R enaissance. The Elves seemed to be an exc eption to this if Aer'andil had understood correctly, what the House of Memories is.

"Uhm…well…in the world I was until recently, they had this thing where they placed old items and pieces of their history and past culture in buildings. They called them museums and people can go and see those items and learn of their distant history." Aer'andil explained unable to take his eyes off of Norion, who seemed to blush under the intense scrutiny.

"Ehh…what…what's the statue to the east?" Aer'andil asked now blushing himself a faint hue of pink colouring his cheeks.

Norion walked towards it slowly, hesitation apparent in every step.

The statue was of a man. He stood tall and strong with his hands crossed in front of his torso looking ahead. He had short hair and powerful facial features. Aer'andil could feel his eyes pierce his very core, even though it was only made of stone and marble. He had a bow hanging over his shoulder and a quiver with arrows by his leg. He wore light armour, and the crown on his head was different from that of the other three statues. Whereas their crowns were fashioned to resemble bark and flowers, his was a flat circle around his head with conical spikes protruding from it.

"He is Glothoin. He is the first Nial to become Elf. There is little to no information about him, or of the age before the elves. Back then, Nial would fight Nial and much of the archives and knowledge of the age before Glothoin has been lost or forgotten. He made the pact with the Aeternae Animus and created the Elves, as we know them today. His daughter, Padra, was the one that changed the crowns to what kings and Queens wear, even today. Her husband created the system of Kings under the High-King, to distribute power and responsibility. It is said that there has not been a better bowman than Glothoin since, but as we do not have records of this it could just be lore and legend." Norion finished speaking and gazed up to Glothoin's statue.

Aer'andil was looking at the statue lost in his thoughts.

"You know, don't you? You know him?" He asked his spirit.

"Indeed. Intimately. His spirit resides partly above, partly here."

"He is inside an elf? Which one?" Aer'andil asked caught by surprise by this revelation from his spirit.

"He is and the knowledge of which would gain you nothing. I can tell you one thing though young one. He was a sublime archer beyond comparison. He lives through and in you and your forefathers." His spirt said and fell silent.

"Do you want to walk in the city with me? I can show you around." Norion asked him, smiling.

He nodded yes and they started walking away from the square, towards the city.

They walked through the city's gates. The city had no walls. It was, after all, perched on the cliff's side overlooking the whole of the south of the island. There was no need or indeed space for walls. The gates consisted of trees twisted together in to arches, with feathers made of a silvery metal on their outer side, resembling spread wings. Whatever metal the feathers were made of, it was flexible enough to bend with the wind. It made them look as if they were ready to take flight.

The buildings in the city were marvels u nto themselves. M ade of rock, marble, wood, and all with ornate and remarkable carvings as well as statues on ledges. All the windows had glass panes that were either had etched or painted with scenes from the daily lives of the elves inhabiting the building, or scenes from their history.

They walked in the city of Glinthala for hours, talking. Talking about anything that came into their minds although, truth be told, Norion did most of the talking. Aer'andil ask ed him one question after another about the history of Valana and his people, a bout glorious feats of valor, majestic battles and, above all, about his own lineage. Even Norion knew more about his own father and mother than he did.

"Can elves transform into more than one animal?" He asked Norion as they walked to the Royal Palace. T he sun was setting beyond the sea to the left, bathing it in gold and red hues.

Aer'andil knew that the world that Valana was on was just as round as Earth. So, in truth, the sun was setting beyond Tel'Naro and the landmass where Lavonia was and that this vision of it setting inside the sea, sinking to slumber only to rise the next day anew, was only an illusion. It was an illusion that he liked as he walked hand in hand with Norion, who did not seem to be bothered by the fact that two boys were holding hands in public view of the whole city. It had been awkward and strange at first but then, as time passed, Aer'andil had noticed that no one seemed to mind or think it strange.

"No. As far as I know, only your lineage can as you are directly descended from Glothoin and Felduen, first of the Nial. Elves from your lineage can transform into any animal you wish, so long as you have seen another elf transform into it before." Norion told him, "But it is strange…most lose that…ability. For example if you had five children, then for four of them eventually, maybe their grandchildren or great grandchildren would stop being able to do it." Norion said wrinkling his nose as he thought about it.

"Four? So one always does?" Aer'andil asked him looking surprised.

"Yes, or more than one. I do not know for certain, but at least one."

"Why only my bloodline? Aren't all Elves eventually descended from Nials that were turned into Elves by hosting the spirits inside them? Why does it matter if Glothoin was the first one, or not?" Aer'andil continued the barrage of questions.

Norion giggled, "I am afraid I do not have that much…intimate knowledge of those things, or of your lineage. B ut it is strange, yes." He said.

"How come no one minds us walking like this?" Aer'andil finally asked unable to hold his curiosity in check anymore.

Norion looked down at his and Aer'andil's legs, then up around him as if perplexed by something. "Walking like what? We are walking like anyone else."

Aer'andil had to giggle at his new friend's expression.

"No, S illy. I mean this!" He said and raised their hands.

It was time for Norion to giggle. He pressed a finger on Aer'andil's nose, "We are not in the world of humans, S torm A rrow. Here things are different and shows of affection are encouraged, be it between family members, friends or…lovers. We are young but when you have lived with a friend, a brother, a sister, mother, lover, spouse or child for a thousand, five thousand, twenty thousand years, it is not strange that very strong bonds are buil t and maintained. "

"To communicate those bonds in public is encouraged as it keeps our society strong and united." Norion spoke, smiling and looking at him with sparkling eyes.

"Okay…I guess…I have to get used to this…"

"You will, you've been amongst us for only a little while. We should get to the Royal Palace. I t is getting dark and I am feeling hungry and tired." Norion said.

Aer'andil nodded and they started walking towards the top of the cliff, where the Royal Palace was.

When they reached its gates, Aer'andil was awed by the building complex. It was in the same style as the rest of the city, only much grander. The entrance had columns to the left and right with vault ed arches on top of them and vines hanging everywhere.

There was a central domed structure flying the flag of Gel'anr, pearl white columns and more statues on perches and ledges. Large stained-glass windows provided light to its interior. To its left and right, connected by corridors that reminded Aer'andil of ancient Greece or Rome, were further domed buildings in the shape of the Greek letter "pi". Trees, like the rest of Glinthala, were everywhere. A bundant and tall, r eally tall. Some taller than the domes of the buildings.

"This is…amazing…" Aer'andil whispered.

"Built by Glonorion. B rother in law of Ygrasil, brother of Fedrasil, son of Halorn and Jethla and husband of Derenia. Greatest of all the Elven Architects so far.

They walked to the inner gates of the Palace, past the garden of immortal trees, as Norion called it, and stood on the light blue marble steps.

"I…was wondering if you would like to…uhm…have a sleepover ? I mean if it's something you would like…" Aer'andil asked shyly, in a voice barely louder than a whisper.,

"I am afraid I do not know what that is., O r at least we may call it differently here. Is it a game?" Norion asked.

"Uhm…well in the world I've been living in, they have this…custom…well it's not really a custom…more like…uhh… When two kids become close friends, or even just friends, they will sleep at each other's houses so that they can play all day and then not have to go back to their home for the night. And uhhh…well if there are not enough beds, they can share the same one …but you know…ehm…just sleep…I guess…" Aer'andil was feeling so nervous all of a sudden. H is throat was dry, his cheeks felt hot and his breathing was faster.

"Oh…yes, I'd like to have a sleepover with you," Norion said and then closed the distance between them, "and even though the Royal Palace has many rooms and beds, I would not mind sharing one with you. … You know, for warmth and sleep." He whispered. N ow feeling very nervous himself, much like Aer'andil was feeling.

Two servants met them when they entered the Palace's interior.

"Young Masters, the food is ready and being served. If you would be so good as to follow us." One of them said and they escorted the boys to the dining room.

Aer'andil kept looking left and right, trying to look at every room, carving, and piece of furniture he could. For a Royal Palace, it did not have overwhelming luxury, or large numbers of paintings, or anything he had seen in pictures of Palaces back in Earth. It was all exquisitely carved, yes. But the furniture was all made of wood, the carpets had intricate designs but were easy on the eye and the only paintings he saw, were all in a single room.

"What is this room?" Aer'andil asked one of the servants. It was the largest room he had seen yet.

"It is the drawing room, my Lord. Here are the portraits of all of your ancestors, my P rince." The servant she-elf replied.

When they arrived in the dining room his parents, Feldon and one more woman were already there. Aer'andil did not have to guess who it was, as Norion ran to her and hugged her.

"Hello, M other, I missed you!"

"I missed you too, S weetheart." She said and hugged him back.

His mother came closer and, caressing his cheek, hugged him as well. Giving him a kiss on his cheek, she stood up, having kneeled to hug Aer'andil and walked to one of the chairs at the dining table.

He felt a bit apprehensive when his father came to him and kne lt down, looking at him intensely.

He held his shoulders and then, when Aer'andil did not resist or say anything, he hugged him for a few moments. Aer'andil hesitated for a moment but then hugged him back.

It was a simple dinner with venison, lots of vegetables and water, that tasted like a combination of grape and lemongrass but for Aer'andil it was special. N ot for the food but because for the first time in a long time, he felt relaxed and at home. The conversation continued late into the night. There was laughter, jokes, questions and answers, mostly directed at, and from, Aer'andil, and there was a feeling of belonging.

"I think it is time for you two to go to sleep. This…sleepover is a strange idea, I'll admit, but it sounds like a fun thing for two children to do." His mother said to him and Norion.

Aer'andil could not help himself from giggling and rolling his eyes. Mothers, human or Elven remained just that, m others. Some things did not change between species or with thousands of years of life.

"Yes, M um. Goodnight, everyone." He said waving goodnight to his father, Feldon and his wife. Taking Norion by the hand, he followed a servant to his room.

They lay in the huge, comfortable, warm bed, under the covers looking at each other, talking in whispers waiting for sleep to overtake them and whisk them into the land of dreams.

Then as Aer'andil felt his eyelids start to close, he saw in the dim light of the moon, coming through the windows, Norion slowly, ever so slowly as if on purpose to gauge his reaction or perhaps torture him sweet anticipation, close the gap between their two faces.

Next thing he knew, the re was the softest of touches on his hand and a pair of moist, silky lips brushing against his.

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