The shit hits the fan and we're getting a glimpse of what's going down for the rest of the book.
The next morning, Sylenthros left his tower and sealed it shut with his magic. The ward he had left outside his room hadn't detected anything, so he decided to ignore the noise he'd heard, sticking it in the back of his mind. He had more important things to worry about. Chances were that whatever it was he heard was nothing more than his tired mind playing tricks on him.
Sylenthros wore his favourite set of robes, green with a splash of blue embroidery and tied tightly at the waist by a matching blue sash. It fluttered behind him as he walked past the saluting guards at the palace entrance. A red carpet with golden trim ascended the giant staircase to the top of the palace.
Not wanting to take the time and energy to walk up to the palace doors on foot, Sylenthros focused on the top and sliced at the air with his arm, ripping open a hole in reality like the blade of a sword. Through it he could see the Golden Gate that led into the heart of the palace. He stepped through the portal and appeared at the top. The tear sealed itself behind him and then vanished as if there had been nothing there to begin with. The guards opened the Gate as he approached.
However, Sylenthros stopped at the breach, eying the two soldiers.
“I see neither of you are in uniform,” he said. “Or is our military so short on men we have to employ commoners?”
The guard on the right shrugged. “I forgot it at home.” He shifted on his feet, the metal of his armor clanking as he moved.
Sylenthros looked at him with a cocked brow. “Both of you?” Both guards just shrugged again and muttered a halfhearted response. The elf could only sigh. “Never mind, I don't have time for these childish games. I have more important business to attend to.” He made a mental note to inform the Captain of the Guard about the breach in protocol. The soldiers were becoming too cozy with their jobs, and it was clearly time for a change.
The Archdruid stepped through the Gate and eyed the guards over his shoulder one last time before the palace was sealed shut behind him. Sylenthros' eyes adjusted to the lower level of light coming from ensconced luminescent globes along the walls. The hall was bare, and spots of it had new marble placed into the walls. At a casual glance, it looked like it fit together, but when one looked closely they could see where the new material met the old.
The entire hallway had been ravaged during the war, when the demons had invaded the city. Statues of kings and queens from every era of Kitair's history had crumbled before the beasts, and great claw marks had cut through the walls as if they hadn't even been there. Where once magnificent tapestries covered the wall from floor to ceiling, now there was nothing except the bare marble stone. Scrolls telling of the long history of the elves had been forever lost during the battle, and few beings remained who could recreate them.
The halls looked naked and plain compared to their former glory, and as Sylenthros walked through the palace he felt the same sadness about the loss of their history and culture that he felt every time he stalked its halls. Though there was an effort put forth to restore the palace to its original state, most of the work that had been done was simply repairing the building itself and its surrounding landscape.
Sylenthros rounded a bend, heading towards the center of the palace where Relena's cloister was situated. He took a few steps, then stopped. The halls were eerily empty. There wasn't even a guardsman in sight to greet him as there usually was. He heard a light scuff, the found of feet leaving the ground. He whirled around to look behind him but saw nothing there.
Something else echoed down the halls to his right and he spun to face it, but again there was nothing there. The sounds existed for only the briefest moment in time before they faded as quickly as they had appeared, and now Sylenthros was sure it wasn't his exhaustion causing him to imagine things.
The hairs on the back of his neck bristled. Something or someone was following him. He doubled back to a three-way fork he had come from and looked around. No one, not a soul. He even looked up at the ceiling, thinking perhaps someone was levitating there, but it was clear as well. There was no magic in the area, which was even stranger than sensing some magic. Most elves carried a repertoire of spells with them, and it was rare to find a part of the kingdom that was barren of magical energies.
What in Gaia's name is going on? Sylenthros decided enough was enough. He dropped a cloak of invisibility over himself, marked by the sound of rushing wind before his form melded into his surroundings and his disappeared entirely. In addition, he took this opportunity to shift into the form of a simple house cat, shrinking him in size and reducing the sound his feet made to nothing more than a whisper.
A cat would go noticed in the palace, and his invisibility spell didn't make him silent. But using both magics at once made him as stealthy as the wind itself.
Better safe than sorry, he thought has he prowled the halls. His ears swiveled to and fro, searching for the source of the sounds he'd been hearing. He kept going until he reached an opening. It led into a circular, roofless garden with a fountain at its center, one that had been erected to honor those that had died during the war. A balcony surrounded the entire garden providing a nice view for anyone on the second floor.
When Sylenthros got out into the open, he hugged the walls and kept his tail close to his body. His nose twitched as he picked up the scent of flowers and something else. Something foreign. He looked up, and was shocked to see a pair of elves garbed in the blackest cloth he'd ever seen. Their faces were concealed, and the only things not covered by black were their eyes. They had foreign looking weapons on their backs, though from this distance Sylenthros couldn't tell what they were. The two elves stood on the edges of the balcony, looking around.
Neither elf spoke, but they made several intricate hand gestures back and forth. It was a language that Sylenthros had never seen before, though he knew of several hand dialects on Muriaj used by various peoples. Whatever they were saying, it was a complete mystery to him. After a moment, they simply vanished. They didn't fade out or step into a portal though. One moment they were there, and one moment they were gone.
Sylenthros blinked a couple of times, not sure if he'd been imagining the elves or not. There was no invisibility spell being cast and suddenly their scent was gone, too. He wondered if there had been anyone there to begin with. He had to suppress the instinct in his animal's body to want to scurry away and hide.
No, there was definitely something there, he told himself. There's no use in trying to deny it, there's someone creeping around the palace. I need to warn Relena.
Reigning in the cat's instincts, Sylenthros continued onward. Things were starting to fall into place. The palace should had been crawling with guards, but it was deathly silent, save for the quiet pitter-patter of his paw pads. There wasn't a single soul in sight. No guards, no grounds keepers, no cooks or servants. He needed to find Relena, and fast. Sylenthros subtly began enlarging his form, increasing the length of his strides and his speed as he rushed through the palace.
The sound of the fountain faded behind him as he darted down the halls. The marble walls were a blur as he picked up speed. He slid around corners as his paw pads fought for purchase on the smooth floors.
If only I could teleport right into her throne room. Damn those wards! Sylenthros thought as he approached the final stretch to her cloister garden that housed the throne. Magical wards had been placed to prevent anyone from teleporting into the throne room, and normally that was supposed to keep her safe from someone appearing without warning in her chambers.
Sylenthros skidded to a stop and took a few steps back to hide behind a corner when he saw Zefar standing outside Relena's room, pacing back and forth. He looked impatient, like he was waiting for someone. Sylenthros stood back up, shifted out of his cat form, and watched Zefar for a few moments.
What is he doing here!? He's not allowed in the Royal Court until they've come to a decision about the Society's removal. However, the wheels in the elf's head continued spinning, putting the pieces of everything together. No, he wouldn't raise a hand against Relena. He wouldn't dare! He stopped for a moment, focusing, and composed himself. I need to take care here...
Sylenthros came out from around the corner and approached Zefar, removing his invisibility spell before the other elf could sense it. “To what do we owe the pleasure, Lord Zefar?”
The Pureblood's leader looked up at him with a start, surprised at the sudden intrusion, but then he smirked at him. “Oh, it's just Leafsblade,” he said, speaking as if the Archdruid were nothing more than an insect. “What do you want?”
“I should be asking you the same thing. I came to speak to the Queen.” Sylenthros pointed at Zefar. “You, however, are not welcomed here until the Court has come to a decision. Please leave at once.”
“I think you presume too much. I'm not here to discuss the particulars of the Court's decision. I'm only here to see Relena.”
“You will address Her Highness as the Queen,” Sylenthros said. “I realize that being as arrogant as you are, you may think you're not obligated to carry yourself with an air of respect around others, but you should remember where you are and whom you are speaking to. I would have thought someone who considers himself a proper elf wouldn't carry on in, what was it you said, 'such an ill-bred manner'?”
Zefar's smirk crept across his face. “Don't play games with me, Leafsblade. I'm not some simpleton you can waylay with trickery and a sharp tongue as you do to so many others.” He looked to the doorway to Relena's throne room, and ran a hand over the wooden double doors. “Besides, you forget your place. Yours is not to question what I or the rest of the Purebloods do.”
“Is that arrogance really becoming of a proper noble?” Sylenthros asked. He clicked his tongue a few times then said, “Acting like a god would only invite Nova's wrath into your home. Or has your childhood dream always been to become a lightning rod?”
“Joke all you want,” Zefar said, “But you're not in control here.”
“I beg to differ. The Queen is the one in control, especially with the majority of the noble houses backing her.”
“Is she?” Zefar asked.
The question struck Sylenthros like a slap in the face. “Step aside Zefar, or I'll strike you down myself!” At that point, he no longer cared about properly conducting himself. The Purebloods were up to something and he had to find out what.
“As you wish,” he said, bowing to the side so Sylenthros could open up the throne room doors.
As the wood creaked and parted before him, he froze in place, hands still on the doors. There, sitting atop her throne, was Relena's bloodied corpse. The grass was coated in arterial spray from a large cut that split her neck nearly in half. Her once beautiful, silver hair was now matted to her body by the enormous bloodstains that covered her. Standing around the throne were the black-garbed elves, wielding ursar katanas. They turned to regard him, and when one of them nodded his head, two of them vanished only to reappear instantly next to Sylenthros.
“What trickery is this!?” the Archdruid roared as he felt the blade of a sword against his throat. It cut into his skin slightly drawing a thin trickle of blood. He leaned his head away, but his hair was grabbed sharply near his scalp and he was held in place. “How can these elves move like that?”
“Poor Sylenthros,” Zefar said as he stepped out into the cloister, “Looks like there's something you didn't know and didn't plan for, is there? You spent so much time worrying about international affairs that you couldn't see the problems on your very doorstep.”
Sylenthros' eyes were fixated on Relena. He was examining her body as best he could from his position. She'd stopped bleeding hours ago, and everything was dried and clotted. Even from many yards away, he could tell that she'd been dead since the morning.
Just how long had Zefar been waiting here? How could I not have foreseen this?
“My agents spotted you coming into the palace, and I couldn't pass up the chance to rub this in your nose,” Zefar said. “Look at what she has brought upon herself. For all her power, she chose to waste it on helping the disgusting, impure races that inhabit this continent, when she should have been using it to return Kitair to its proper glory, to a time where we ruled after the fall of the Orcish Empire.” He leaned forward and whispered in Sylenthros' ear, “You shouldn't have pushed me by singling the Society out in court.”
“Why would you do this?”
“We had always planned to eliminate Relena,” Zefar admitted. “After all, she was the biggest obstacle to our goals. Your little stunt yesterday only required that we expedite the operation. Even now, the palace is falling under our control, and news of Relena's death has already reached the other noble houses. Soon, the city will erupt into a civil war as the nobles try to take the throne for themselves, and that's when the Pureblood Society shall strike.”
“They aren't so foolish!” Sylenthros spat. “They'll know who is responsible for Relena's death.”
“You're such a blind fool. Politics was never your game was it?” Zefar asked. “No, you were better suited to your books and your gardens.”
“Where's the palace servants then?”
Zefar laughed at him. “Did you really think that the meagar force of guards and riff-raff in this castle could stand up to the Purebloods? Do you know how easy it was to dispatch them using the ninjutsu my operatives have learned? They spend a decade training in that Gods-forsaken land of savage bears to learn the secrets of their mystical arts, and it has finally begun to pay off.”
“So even after all this time, after all that the Pureblood Society has preached, you couldn't achieve your goals without foreign aid,” Sylenthros remarked. “How pathetic. Is this your idea of purity, Zefar?”
“It doesn't matter what you think, Leafsblade. You uphold your values and morals, even once push comes to shove. That's what makes you weak. Only those willing to abandon their beliefs for the sake of progress will survive.” Zefar turned to the ninjas that had Sylenthros restrained, and nodded his head.
As the katana cut through Sylenthros' throat, the elf disappeared. Everyone in the room stopped, stunned by the sudden development, and looked around.
From above the cloister, standing on the rooftop, Sylenthros shouted, “Really Zefar, you give yourself far too much credit! The guards at the Golden Gate, the missing patrols, the strange elves in black roaming the upper floors, the noises outside my tower, and your presence just outside the throne room... did you really think I wouldn't piece everything together? Did you really think I'd walk right into a trap face first? I'm not a scholar for nothing!”
“Don't you mock me!” Zefar's hand shot up and a bolt of lightning screeched across the clearing. It struck Sylenthros square in the chest, but just like before, the elf disappeared again. “Stop playing games, you ill-bred mongoloid! Stop delaying the inevitable!”
Sylenthros watched from above, having assumed his owl form and taken to the air before he'd sent his illusionary double to speak to Zefar. “You forget who you're talking to, Zefar. I'm the Archdruid. I command the very elements themselves!”
With a shriek, Sylenthros funneled a large amount of mana below him. A dense fog rolled into the throne room and shards of ice formed above the palace, raining down on the ninjas and Zefar. He heard the Purebloods' leader scream orders as he fled, but before Sylenthros could give chase, several of the ninja appeared without warning nearby. Throwing knives flew up from the ground, and the pair of ninja's coming at him sliced at him with their katanas. Sylenthros ducked and rolled, avoiding a fatal blow but his left wing was clipped by the blade of a sword.
As the owl fell, he conjured a ball of light that burst into an array of scintillating colors, blinding his attackers and giving him a moment to escape. He took off as fast as he could, hoping that no one had seen where he was going.
As Sylenthros rushed to take refuge elsewhere in the city, he could hear the shrieks of the townsfolk as Pureblood soldiers marched into the streets and began slaughtering the humans and half-elves that lived there. The Archdruid ducked into an alley and shifted out of his owl form. He clenched his fists as he watched from the darkness, wanting to do something to save the people. However, he knew if he did something it might give his location away and he might not escape next time.
I don't have time to prepare another elaborate illusion like the last one, he thought. I need a distraction, and a place to make sense of things. Wasting no time, he channeled mana into his palms and slammed his hands into the ground. Earth elementals arose up from the streets and began to fight back against the Pureblood soldiers, buying the fleeing citizens a chance to escape.
Dropping an invisibility cloak over his head, Sylenthros ran. There was nothing more he could do, not when those ninja could appear instantly and without warning next to him. He needed time to plan his next move.
Relena, I'm so sorry. The screams faded away as he left the main cavern behind, heading for one of the druid groves on the outskirts of the city. It was there he hoped he would find a chance to recuperate and plan how to strike back at Zefar. Assuming that the Purebloods weren't already waiting at every grove for his return.