Chapter 15:

By Craig A. Price Jr.

Whispers carried in the wind and echoed across the chill breeze in the air. Thousands of Ikchani crowded together before a podium built of stone to raise a dozen paces above the ground. They were silent but there were still whispers within them. There were no men among them and it was possible that they kept their slaves bound within tents or buildings elsewhere. Starlyn stood on top of the podium preparing for an announcement but before she could she had to collect her thoughts. So many things swirled within her mind that she could not seem to control.

Beyond any feeling within the elf there was fear and worry. It was not of these Ikchani women. In fact she had grown to respect them now. At first she had believed them wrong in enslaving men to do their will. Their plans for domination throughout the kingdoms of the land seemed silly and a futile effort. Starlyn understood now that much of these women's views were correct. Without women in power the land had been tainted in separation and battle. Men were too stubborn headed to fight for alliances rather than separations. They did not seek to ally the land under one great banner, but instead everything was separated. Separation was the key to destruction. When a great force approached any of these smaller kingdoms they were able to dominate and take over with little effort. These Ikchani were about to prove the theory by taking over the smaller nations under their control.

The Ikchani that stood before her were of every type. There were nobles that wore silk dresses and garments enriched with embroidery of lace and jewels. Most wore red but there was some with brown or gray but their colors weren't more fruitful than that. Starlyn herself wore a silk dress with lace embroidery of lace above her exposed cleavage. She was considered a noble of power and her knowledge was greatly respected. It was due to the fact that she was an elf admist their ranks and even Ikchani held high values of elves. Elves were one of the races of the land whom they were not able to snatch into their ranks, until now. There were many women white skin, tan, ebony, and copper from the various lands of Calthoria. The majorities of the women standing before her were warriors and only wore heavy metal armor upon the bottom of their bodies. It left their entire top half exposed to the chill winds but it was not considered improper due to the fact there were no men in their ranks. Instead it gave them pride that they were the warriors. Sorceresses also were left exposed on the top half of their body but did not wear armor. Instead the Ikchani sorceresses wore silk or cloth of red on the lower half of their body and sometimes as hoods. The number of Ikchani warriors was emasculate beyond hundreds of thousands. At first the number had dumbfounded Starlyn as she couldn't believe so many were able to stay hidden from the outside world without anybody knowing. However, she soon learned that these women were not surprised by men. The ones that were able to get close enough were close enough to be captured. Even the sorceresses were in the thousands of numbers. They weren't weak in any manner either, but more powerful that Starlyn herself could have imagined.

Behind Starlyn stood two warriors, four nobles, and three sorceresses all embroidered like royalty. The three sorceresses that stood behind her were Raven, Vireo, and Sparrow. They were the same ones who fought to break her but she had grown to respect them now. Each wore no clothing besides the long stainless boots and fishnet stockings that grew to their waist. Like the rest of the Ikchani sorceresses they had black collars with spikes tight around their neck that Starlyn found out was a source of power. It amplified their magical ability somehow but Starlyn was unsure how they worked. Two wore red fingernail polish while the leader wore blue that seemed so indifferent than the rest of the Ikchani. There were no others that wore such deep colors and blue among so much red showed her rank. Her name was Raven and she was so named for the color of her long black hair that hung well past her shoulders. She had been the primary one torturing Starlyn. At first Starlyn despised the woman, but now she held nothing but respect for her.

The two warriors were both captains of the Ikchani army. One she had met before, Adneiva, who was captain of the sword. She was a hard woman that gives little push. She wore her red cape and bronze thong but little else. Even her helm was at her side allowing Starlyn to see her coppery hair on her tan face. The other captain was the leader of the range. Most women held crossbows rather than bows because of the easier pull of the weapon. Not all women were able to pull back a bow string with ease but some were excelled marksmen. Crossbows were certainly effective amongst the ranks of Ikchani. The captain was named Nyeverra and held a bow and quiver attached to her back. The weapon didn't allow her to travel bare-chested but she wore light leather armor that hung low enough for nearly all of her cleavage to be exposed. Her skin was ebony with dark chocolate eyes and olive hair. She held herself with more confidence than most Ikchani.

There were only four nobles behind her but they had to fight for the position. A total of ten had constantly bothered her with politics of the Ikchani in order to prepare for the speech. She understood most of it now and she respected the Ikchani in a way. Still, she wished that they had better ways to deal with men than death or imprisonment. If she lived long enough she would discuss better ways to treat men but her time didn't seem as if it would last that long. Three of the noblewomen were dressed in red and only one had a brown silk dress with embroidery. One had ebony skin and the other three were coppery with bright eyes full of hope. Behind her they encouraged her to begin but she was not prepared yet.

Pain tore through her body making her weak. Most were familiar with her condition, although they did not understand. She did not understand it either but she could no longer worry about it. They had sent her sorceress healers to ease her pain but none were able to find the cause. It did not matter anymore. Soon she would die, but first she would direct the Ikchani in the right path. Perhaps Searon could form an alliance with the stubborn women, but it wasn't likely. She flinched again in pain as a tingle shot through her stomach. Blood was felt trickling down her leg and she cringed slightly before standing erect once more. She had fought past the pain before and she could do so again.

She did not hold the same hatred of men that the rest of the Ikchani held. It might have been possible had she never met Searon or Noraes. Searon was not a foolish man, or perhaps he was, but he was steadying himself. She could tell that his emotions no longer revolved around revenge, but now were closer to that of a captain. He was more of a general now than ever. She had known that he was a leader before from what knowledge from his past she could claw from him, but he was greater now. His leadership was beyond her own that she could tell. She was able to rally the elves in a previous war, but she held nothing compared to the grip Searon now held on the humans. He would soon have the elves entwined with him. Regret filled her that she could not be there to aid him on his quest. Perhaps with these Ikchani she could strive them in the right direction to him aid. If they could only see past their selfish goals to enslave all men, perhaps they could see the greater good.

Noraes filled her mind in a flood of warmth that caused a smile to rest upon her serene face. Never before had she met a man so warm and understanding in all of her travels. Yet, she hadn't traveled to see many of the humans besides the few she had come across in her journeys. Searon was strong and single minded with only one purpose and goal. At first it had seemed that he would be where her heart settled, because they both held the same goal: destruction of the ranzaks. It seemed logical at the time. She knew better when she glanced upon Noraes for the first time. He wasn't as savage as Searon and held a more baby face that reminded her more of an elf. There was magic within him that she felt in his presence, but he was in complete control.

The touch of his lips on hers gave her enough warmth that she felt giddy when she thought about it. It hadn't been foreseen that it would happen but when they were left alone there was little she could do to stop it. Both of them talked from Searon to life and everything between. Beyond any other he seemed to understand her indefinitely. Anaela was one of her closest friends but there were things that she didn't even know that she had confessed to Noraes. His presence had quite literally melted her knees to butter and she didn't understand it. She wondered if it could be fate that the two of them met. He seemed to look at her as passionately as she looked at him when he saw her for the first time. At first she thought that it was because he had never seen an elf before. After they talked she found out she was a mere one in thousands he had come across in another journey of his life. It was a journey that Searon himself hadn't even known about. She remembered stroking her hands in his medium dirty blond hair and feeling at the large brown birthmark at his forehead. His face was hard with a thick jaw with slight facial hair growth giving him masculinity. Yet, he was still considered beautiful rather than handsome with thick brown eyebrows and long eyelashes that dwarfed her own. He was proud beyond any other that she had known. Even Searon was unsure about himself with misplaced confidence. Noraes was proud and confident and it showed on his beautiful face. She longed to be in his embrace again, to feel his strong hands grasping at her naked back.

Shivers shook through her entire body and she had to shift herself again to reject such thoughts. How dare her be thinking about being in Noraes's bed as she stood on a podium for a speech. It wasn't proper, but oh did she crave it. No, she would keep her head in the right place even if her body wasn't. It still writhed and ached in pain beyond any other she had known. She would have gladly taken a battle scar rather than this absolute pain.

"Welcome." She spoke softly.

The whispers seized and all become silent. She looked around the crowd that seemed to blend together as one. Eagles took flight and scattered across the ranks of Ikchani. There had to be dozens of them soaring through the air. It was midday but the sun wasn't hot in the air. Instead clouds covered it in the sky above them giving overcast. Everything seemed darkened by the sky and the weather was chill to the touch. The cold weather didn't seem to bother the hundreds of thousands of Ikchani that wore no top but Starlyn herself shivered slightly.

"I have come to bid a request. I have learned your politics from as many as were able to teach me. There are great ideas within them but there are also flaws. I have discussed these issues with the nobles and some have been agreeable while others have disregarded me. Instead I come before you, the people of the Ikchani. A vote must be set forth to decide the fate of the Ikchani."

The whispers began again entwining like webs of a spider trying to trap small bugs that got caught between. She allowed it for a moment so everything could sink in. It was likely that what she had to say would travel through one ear and shoot out the other. She was allowed to speak before everybody and for that she was thankful.

"I agree that these human kings need to be removed if there is to be any chance of unity between the nations. However there is an alliance that is building between the humans to defeat a common enemy. They are our enemy as well. The ranzaks and daerions."

More whispers traveled throughout the group of Ikchani. There were hundreds of thousands of them present, but it was not still all of them. It was a mere fraction of the Ikchani that claimed their own hidden nation. The force was beyond any Starlyn had ever known. Elves were the only united race that stretched even close to the force yet they were still shy.

"Men are foolish and hard headed. They do have not have much sense for politics and leadership. There are few I have met that can see reason. Still, they have forces for battle, and will be useful allies rather than enemies against these ranzaks and daerions. I merely ask for an alliance until these dark creatures are destroyed once and for all. If not, then even if we conquer we could fall to these creatures that are growing strong. We must destroy them before they overrun us."

Whispers turned to murmurs and the silence was broken. It was replaced with an eerie chill that cause cold bumps to form at Starlyn's bare forearms. She was the only one who shivered. The Ikchani didn't seem to feel cold. Frost seemed to form around her and she silently wondered if it was the weather or her illness. Her face felt colder than ice and her entire body covered with cold bumps. Frost bite seemed to nip at her exposed skin. Elves were already of pale skin, but hers seemed nearly snow white. She remembered her mother in much the same state. Shifting slightly she straightened her silk dress and glanced at the sorceresses behind her. Their faces were fierce and demanding and she dared not ask for one of them to warm her. She wished she had Noraes to warm her. No, those thoughts needed to leave her mind for good. She would not see him again. Soon she would be dead, and nobody would see her again.

She raised a hand causing the rest of the Ikchani to go silent. "After we deal with this threat of dark creatures, when they are destroyed, we will march upon the lands of the humans to conquer. One by one all men will bow before us. Women shall rule the world once again."

The silence lasted only minutes before cheers erupted in the crowd. Soon everybody cheered besides those who were behind her. She had accomplished what she set forth. These people had heard her concerns and opinions. Let them take from it what they will. Her task was done. She was growing weak and her vision seemed to fade. Turning around she began walking away and stumbled. Adneiva caught her arm and kept her steady. She nodded to thank the woman.

"Are you well Lady Starlyn?" Adneiva asked.

"I feel weak. I need rest, could you please take me to my room?"

Adneiva nodded and held Starlyn steady to walk her through the camp back to the tent. The path was empty since everybody had been standing in the courtyard to hear her speech. Her words were the last of a long line of various speakers. Starlyn had barely heard the others as she waited. It wasn't because she did not wish to hear, but the pain tormenting her body had proved difficult for her to comprehend her surroundings. Adneiva was respectful to her and knew of her illness. She was able to confide some of her fears to the captain and in confidence had learned that the great captain had been in love before. It was that love and a broken heart that drove her to hate men as she did now. Starlyn felt bad for the woman who could never experience the deepest desires of returned love. It haunted at herself because she did not know if Noraes had loved her. She didn't even consider whether she loved him or not, but her feelings for him were definite.

Adneiva helped Starlyn into a small red tent with green lace flaps among dozens. It was the only tent that held green lace in its front, a definition of forest. They had stitched it for her to define the tent as one holding an elf of the forest. She did not wish to inform them their reasons were false as she was not a wood elf but a high elf. Instead she kept silent as she knew her time with them was coming to an end. Adneiva gently helped Starlyn to her bed that was covered in crimson satin sheets.

"Do you need help undressing Lady Starlyn?"

Starlyn smiled remembering the times this woman had pressed about spending the night in her bed with her for comfort. It was one reason that these Ikchani needed men rather than each other, but none would admit. The comfort of a woman could sometimes prove more effective than that of a man, but not on all occasions.

"No, I can manage. Thank you Adneiva." Starlyn brushed the woman's cheek.

"Rest well."

After one last glance Adneiva was gone from the tent to leave Starlyn alone. She preferred it that way. Solitude was what became of her after she left Sudegam. There was one she could go to who would understand and might be able to help her. That wasn't a possibility anymore. Instead she became trapped within the ranks of the Ikchani. The room was dark and quiet with little but paintings and handcrafted pots hiding the walls. She slipped from her silk dress and let it fall to the ground. Ikchani did not make undergarments and so she lay upon her bed naked. The cold air didn't affect her anymore and for some reason her body was burning up now instead of frozen. Shivers still covered her body but they no longer burned of frostbite. Instead it felt as though she were on fire. Pain tormented her and she began to weep. She closed her eyes but tears continued to fall.

There was an eerie chill in the air that didn't settle well with the scattered fog surrounding the afternoon sky. It was odd that such fog could still remain so late in the morning when it neared afternoon. Charlotte could barely see through it now to the gathered meeting four hundred paces in front of her. She was perched on a branch far up in an oak tree as she watched below. Snowflake wasn't with her, but she told the tiger to remain behind. It was strange that the animal had seemed to understand and obey her but she assumed it was saddened by the capture of Starlyn. Of course it had always been her dream that animals could understand the commands and emotions of humans. A faded memory of faerie tales her mother used to tell her began swirling in her mind. The memories replaced her concentrated face with a grimace.

She had lost her parents when she was young. Barely at the age of five, had she remembered the village being attacked. Her family wasn't able to afford much but they always seemed to be able to feed her. It wasn't much besides bread and cheese. Water could always be found in puddles after a rain. Her father would always find cups and bowls often thrown out by nobles for imperfections and use them to store water. After all, even a week without bread was survived with the sufficient amount of water. Thirst was what always took a person first. Charlotte knew that which was why she clutched her steel canteen as she stared at the gathered camp. She held a looking glass to her eye and noticed that Starlyn was to be on stage. She regarded the defenses they kept on her but they seemed insignificant. They no longer guarded her as they once had. Charlotte could see that the elf was growing weaker and her heart sank each time she saw it.

Memories clouded her mind of her past with her parents. Both had been so full of love and her loss of them was a burden upon her small fragile heart. She never thought to love again, with such thoughts of survival only. It was thought deep within her soul that she would perish like her parents had so many years ago. Often there were times she wished she had been with them when they fell instead of hid. Sometimes she thought that even in death she would be with them, wherever they were, instead of alone. Those thoughts had changed only when she met Searon, but soon she was alone again. She survived the onslaught of the city, where she really found herself alone. Then it was Starlyn who came into her life and restored all hope, and no matter what happened she knew in her heart of hearts that she would not let Starlyn fall. For she did not fear death anymore, only in life was she afraid, afraid of being utterly alone. The faces of her parents were still fresh in her mind as if it were yesterday.

"Alas, Charlotte! There you are my dear, come here, do come here, for I have something for you!" Her father spoke with cheer in his voice.

She turned and looked into his indigo with a smile lighting up her young dirty face. Crusty dirt caked her cheeks and her father fell to his knees to embrace her in a large hug laughing all the while. He reached into his back pocket and withdrew a dirty black handkerchief that he proceeded to moisten with his saliva to clean her face.

"Daddy, what is it that you have for me?" She asked with a glint in her eye.

"Ah, do not be greedy my child, for it is here in my hand."

From behind his back he pulled a scarlet soft teddy bear with only a few specks of dirt. Its chest was pink and bore the scarlet letters, 'love'. She embraced it quickly giving it a hug almost larger than the one she gave her father. Leaping up into her father's arms she kissed his cheek gratefully.

"I do love it daddy."

"I am glad my dear. May it be a reminder that I shall always be with you, even when you cannot see me."

"Charlotte dear, are you here?" Came a motherly voice in the darkness.

She turned searching the shadows for her mother. Her father pulled her back to so she could look into his eyes. They seemed worried for only a second before a beautiful white smile granted his face. He brushed his tangled black hair from his face and cleared his throat.

"My dear Charlotte, please hide the bear from your mother, and keep it our little secret. For your mother would be displeased with me to find I spent my last gold coin on that for you rather than food. Promise me?"

Charlotte leaned in and kissed her father's cheek. "I promise."

Her mother appeared from the shadows as she stuffed her new scarlet teddy into the folds of her torn blue dress. She looked up smiling at her mother and noticed that her fragile fingers carried a half a loaf of bread. Charlotte gasped excitingly seeing the first scrap of food in a few days. Her mother smiled so brightly that it seemed to light up the room. Charlotte looked up into her crystal blue eyes and tangled yet beautiful beeline honey hair.

"It is old and hard, but yet there is still some good in it. Eat my daughter, for your father and I have already shared some."

Charlotte nearly snatched it from her mother's hands to begin gnawing on it with much effort. Even though it was hard, it was still tasteful and settling to her stomach. Her mother laughed at her efforts with serenity and joy before walking over to her father. Both looked deep into each other's eyes and smiled lovingly before embracing each other in a passionate kiss. They remained in each other's arms to watch as their daughter was fed.

Suddenly a large crash and yells were heard from outside the abandoned building. Both her mother and father looked at each other questioningly before making towards the door. There was little in the room besides wool blankets they found to keep warm, except for a short sword that her father grabbed to attach to his holey scabbard hanging from his torn brown breeches. Her mother hastily grabbed a dagger and looked after him.

"Stay here my dear. Promise me you will stay here." Her mother said.

"I promise mother, but come back soon."

"We will." She gently kissed Charlotte's forehead before dashing off after her father.

Charlotte sat cold and alone but with a full stomach. Sounds surrounded her of crashing and screaming coming from all areas outside. It sounded as if there were skirmishes all about and clattering of metal upon metal. She shivered and hastily pulled a brown wool blanket to cover herself from the cold. The sounds continued for hours until at last the door crashed open ahead. She was near the brink of sleep but awoken swiftly to look ahead in hope to see her parents.

Two men entered muttering under their breath bearing worn leather armor and swords in their hands. She cowered against the wall holding onto her blanket tight. Both stopped suddenly and saw her shivering. One walked up close to inspect her.

"It is a little girl."

"Come, she is no use to us." The other called.

"Perhaps not. At least not yet. Given time she could prove to be all the useful."

"Berendyl, no, leave her be. She is innocent in this."

"Very well."

With one last glance and a sinister smile at her, he turned around and the two of them sped out of the nearly empty building. She shivered there for hours but it only seemed like minutes before she dared move a step. It was nightfall and the clashing of metal against metal and metal upon stone had long passed. An eerie silence was all that remained and yet her parents did not return. Warily she rose to her feet and took slow cautioned steps forward.

She pushed the door forth to stare out into the night. It was darker than normal with clouds covering the stars and moon in the sky. Each step she took she shook with terror. Her fingers found the fold of her dress where her teddy bear lay unscathed and soon it was in her hand. She held it tight with a deathly grip as she shivered. There were no voices and even deeper in the city there appeared to be silence. She dared not travel through those streets but she kept to the abandoned alleys near her home.

Finally she turned a corner to see what she dreaded, for what lay upon the ground was none other than her mother and father. Neither held sword nor dagger in their clenched hands as if the weapons had been torn from them. Both seemed not to breathe and a crimson liquid was spread upon the ground surrounding them. Charlotte ran up to them and cried out in terror. She dared not care if anyone heard for she had nothing to fear anymore. Her greatest fear was lying before her in a puddle of fresh blood. She leaped into their arms calling for them to wake but neither stirred. Blood soaked her blue dress turning it crimson and her scarlet teddy soaked in it as well. Yet she dared not move and instead stayed there with them all night weeping into the darkness.

Charlotte shivered as the memories faded and she realized she still clung to the tree before the woman kingdom. She felt at the folds of her white and blue trim dress and found the teddy within it. A solemn smile found her face as she remembered the kindness of her mother and father. She gave it a big hug and kiss before placing it back in its fold. The innocent blood within it had long since been dried but she dared not wash it, for it now had a part of her mother and father within it. It was that which she clung to more than ever.

When she stared down at the gathering she saw that Starlyn was up and speaking. Every eye, even those of the guards were turned upon her to watch her speech with interest. It was then that she quietly slid from the tree and dashed into the camp. There were still small patrols gathered about that were not part of the meeting, yet their attention was turned towards each other in gossip. If one thing could be counted on upon a civilization of women, it was that of never failing gossip.

She found the red tent with green lace flaps that she had been studying for days. The women seemed to hold it in high regard, as the green stitching was honored for that of an elf. It made it easy for them to recognize that tent of the respected elf, but little to their knowledge did they realize it was a target for anyone a friend of Starlyn. There were a few guards close by, yet not directly in front of the tent. Charlotte pulled a pebble from her pocket and tossed it down the road. Both the women turned holding spears to stare at the lone pebble bouncing down the dusty road. Charlotte took the opportunity to dash past the both of them and into the tent.

The tent was nearly empty except that of a few plants and flowers which grew in clay pots scattered about on tables and upon the floor. There were also a few paintings of the forest and trees scattered about. It seemed the women were attempting to comfort the elf into thinking of the solitude as home with a few plants and painting of sceneries. They were fools to say the least to think of such to have any effect to a once free elf to roam the wilderness.

There was little area to hide but Charlotte was small enough to fit between a tan pot and plant and a wardrobe of clothes. She sat there still as she could be as she calmed her breathing and the beating of her heart. It was many long minutes she waited there until she heard Starlyn arrive. There were two pairs of footsteps however and so she remained still in concealment listening to the whispers of the dark. She awaited many long minutes until all was quiet before peering through the plant to Starlyn's bed.

The elf lay motionless upon the bed with little to no clothes as Charlotte could tell. Her chest moved up and down quietly as if already in a deep sleep. Charlotte smiled and went to take a step forward when she heard a noise in the dark. Reluctantly she took a step back but kept one eye forward through the thick leafy plant to gaze at the one who entered.

It was a female with a red hood, tall steel boots, and fishnet stalking that traveled from her boots to her waist. She removed the hood revealing a young face yet not ageless like Starlyn's. Her long raven black hair hung past her shoulders with a few strands falling on her bare firm bosom. She seemed to hold a scepter of glowing aura which she sat on the bed next to Starlyn.

"You did well today my dear Starlyn. I do not yet know if they chose to heed your advice. Yet, they are in consideration. The motion is being voted on as we speak." A soft, yet dark voice calmly spoke in almost a whisper.

Starlyn stirred and looked up to the woman. There appeared to be fear in Starlyn's appearance but she nodded to the woman. The woman smiled almost cruelly and brushed her fingers that held blue polish upon Starlyn's pale cheek. She seemed to lean in to kiss Starlyn, yet Starlyn quickly turned her face away causing the woman's cold lips to touch only her cheek.

"I am wary and tired. Please. I just want to rest."

"Very well. Rest strong, for tomorrow there are many things we must do."

The woman stood and grasped the scepter from the bed. She glanced about the room and Charlotte slid back without a sound. Her breath held tight and she remained for many minutes before gaining the courage to peer back through the plant. She still waited many minutes before leaving the cover of the plant and coming to a rest at Starlyn's bed. Starlyn did seem asleep now with even rise and falls of her chest.

"Starlyn?" Charlotte whispered.

Starlyn's eyes sprung open in a flutter before her head swung to meet Charlotte's gaze. Her gunmetal eyes seemed to catch aflame and widen with horror. It seemed like she would shriek out loudly and so Charlotte hastily shot her index finger to her lips. Starlyn appeared to calm herself before sitting up in the bed.

"What are you doing here?"

"I am here for you."

"Did they catch you?"

"No, I am here of my free will, and I have come to bring you out of here."

"It is no use, for their power is great and I'm afraid there is no escape."

"There is Starlyn. I can bring you out of here."

"No… Charlotte, you must leave. If you can, please escape. I do not wish for them to have you as well."

"I won't go without you." Charlotte's eyes filled with tears.

"No… Charlotte… please, do not cry."

"Come with me. I can get you out of here. You have to trust me, I can."

"There is not a way, I have thought long and hard about escape until I found it was useless. These women, these Ikchani, they are brilliant beyond any I have seen. No tricks or mockery will trick these women into abandoning their posts."

Charlotte smiled now, "My father once told me, 'Curiosity does not kill the cat, but the valiant mouse can lead it astray.'"

Starlyn now looked at her curiously now as if trying to read into her thoughts. Charlotte only laughed and tossed her a cloak of red with hood and all. Starlyn grasped it and looked at it questionably before putting it over her naked body. She looked around the tent with loss in her eyes.

"What's wrong?" Charlotte asked.

"My hammer." Starlyn sighed.

"Where is it do you think?" Charlotte asked.

"There is an armory several tents over, yet it is a lost cause. Even if you can escape me from here which I doubt, the armory is guarded by at least four women."

"Do you doubt me?" Charlotte asked.

"I'm afraid I do not know. I do believe in you, but I cannot say why."


"What are we to do?"

"Stay, and wait for my signal."

With that Charlotte dashed from a small cut in the back of the tent. Dusk was settling about now with the sun nearly hiding behind the trees. Women scurried about, yet there were few compared to before. She knew that most would be elsewhere discussing the happenings of the day, or else already in their tents to rest. Standing just before the center of the main road through the tented village were three women clad in armor, two with spears and one with a sword. Charlotte picked a medium stone from the ground and threw it hard towards them before quickly dashing another direction. She could hear the clatter of armor and a woman yell through the air, at that moment from where she now hid she whistled into the air with all of her might. Her whistle seemed to echo throughout the camp and she dashed about again so her whistle could not be traced.

Murmurs erupted in the surrounding area and she soon blended in with the wanderers of the street. She wore a small red cloak over her dress that she had scavenged earlier that week and so she appeared to be one of their children there. Soon the murmurs were silenced as a fierce echoing roar shook all of the tents. All the passersby seemed to look about with fear in their faces and eyes. Many red cloaks shifted and ducked into tents or dashed away to other areas. The three warriors seemed to grip weapons yet still they shook.

A glorious white Bengal tiger sprang from the depth of the forest and tackled the two holding spears. The woman with the sword tried to fight but with only one strike against the beautiful beast her sword was lost in a swipe to the arm. Everybody in the surrounding area had dashed out of sight and she looked into the tiger's eyes before disappeared behind a few barrels. Soon the tiger was at her side and she whispered to it pointing down the road. Within seconds the tiger pranced off with a new objective in mind.

Charlotte turned to the tent to see Starlyn's eyes staring from the tear in the rear of the tent. She motioned for Starlyn to follow and within moments the elf tore the tent larger so she could squeeze through before dashing to meet the young girl. Her eyes were wide and her expression unreadable but she knew better than to speak. Charlotte made a motion in her hand of a hammer and Starlyn soon nodded dashing through the road. She sprinted nearly three hundred paces before coming to a red tent with black trim. One the ground lay four women warriors though it could not be determined if they were unconscious or dead. Starlyn stared at them only briefly before dashing inside with Charlotte close behind.

It took only but a few moments for Starlyn to find her prized hammer and even her battle armor which she quickly swiped up into a bundle of cloth that she tied with rope. She held out her hand to Charlotte beckoning her to lead the way and so Charlotte dashed from the tent. Starlyn trailed close behind as Charlotte dashed towards the woods. The streets were bare but a few scurrying people who were too scared for their own lives to notice either Starlyn or Charlotte. There were more roars further through the tented village that would keep most of their attention.

Charlotte ran for what seemed like days yet it was only hours passed before she came to a stop by a large oak tree with a ditch before it. She dove down into it pressing her back against the cold dirt panting loudly. Starlyn soon joined her panting nearly as loud as she. Her energy seemed to be back when she ran for her life to follow Charlotte but now her weakness was once again showing.

She looked up to Charlotte and smirked, "Thank you."

Charlotte smiled and Starlyn's arm soon found its way around her in an embrace that wouldn't end. The two of them snuggled together for many long minutes letting wariness overcome them before a sound disturbed them both. Charlotte opened her eyes first and Starlyn attempted to move but realized her burst of energy was now gone. A calm hand rested on Starlyn's shoulder as Charlotte rose to peer over the trunk. A sign of relief spread across her face and she snuggled back to Starlyn.

After a moment a large beast leapt over the oak roots and in front of the ditch. Charlotte grinned and Starlyn stared forward in shock before coming to realize what it was. Her snow white tiger, Snowflake, stood before them. There were a few cuts and scrapes staining red across the once perfect pelt, but nothing too serious for such a tiger. Leaping forward, Snowflake rushed to Starlyn and gave several big licks upon her face.

"I have missed you too my old friend and my heart warms now that we are together again. Thank you, thank you both. For long I feared I would be trapped forever, yet I have forgotten about the bond of friendship. It is often forgotten for those of my kind, but heed these words. I will no longer forget my friends who hold true."

Charlotte hugged Starlyn tighter and Snowflake laid upon Starlyn's legs cuddling close to her. There the three of them rested, all wary from their escape from the clutches of the Ikchani. Charlotte soon fell asleep but her mind kept to the Ikchani people and she knew they did not have much time to rest. They must make haste and soon before their trail was caught, but for now she closed her eyes and let the soothing darkness take her mind into a calm relaxing sleep. She had Starlyn back, finally. No longer was all hope lost.