Here we are, finally, at the new chapters. Hopefully, they'll start to come faster than one every year or so! Again, all sincere criticism and any encouragement are appreciated.

The Color of Moonlight, Chapter Four: Two Meetings

By Lomiel

The huge doors swung silently outward, slowly at first. Light filtered though the crack, and Shimoyo pulled one last time, hard. The doors opened enough to admit her, so she stepped quickly inside and yanked the doors closed behind her. Unfortunately, the doors swung back together easier than they had opened, and slammed together with a thunderous boom that echoed through the arched chamber Shimoyo found herself in. Instantly, all conversation in the room ceased, and many pairs of silver-flecked eyes turned to Shimoyo, standing by the door. The shifting light that played down through the carved holes in the ceiling momentarily blinded the seraph, and she looked around to find everyone staring at her. Flustered, Shimoyo cleared her throat and bowed her head briefly in greeting. A moment later, the musical flow of the archaic Elvish language began again, and the beings cloaked in huge silvery wings ignored her as if she wasn't there.

Shimoyo stepped forward into the room, which was circular and, if anything, more beautifully decorated than the outside had been. In the center of the room stood the huge trunk of the tree, and several thick branches seemed to be braced against the walls. The ceiling above was almost nonexistent, consisting entirely of carved vines and flowers. The walls sloped in an unbroken curve from their bases into the ceiling, right to the point where they connected in a pyramid shape with the trunk.

Shimoyo glided ahead to where the seraphim were gathered around the tree trunk, conversing in low voices. She looked around in confusion. The giant room looked empty with no more than forty seraphim in the room. She wondered vaguely when the rest were going to arrive. She had been on one of the farthest borders from the city and had taken three days to get here, and yet still only a fraction was present than had been here the last meeting.

"Greetings, Shimoyo."

Shimoyo turned, careful not to knock anyone over with her wings, to find herself looking slightly up into eyes not unlike her own. They were shifting shades of gray instead of blue, but were flecked with the same silver as Shimoyo's. They belonged to a seraph that stood behind her, watching her with a typically serious expression. His long black hair, highlighted by silver in the watery light, fell in front of his eyes, partially masking them. His wings, even larger than Shimoyo's, draped regally about his shoulders, and his eyes were further veiled when he bowed slightly to Shimoyo, causing more of his hair to fall in front of them. Shimoyo bowed respectfully before breaking into a smile. "Greetings, Lúmë! Please forgive me for my noisy arrival," Shimoyo said, smiling up at him.

Lúmë smiled softly. "Of course. Welcome. As you can see, we are not as strong as we should be." A shadow not cast by light flickered across the seraph's face, but he forced it back quickly.

"Why are there so few? Surely this is not all."

Lúmë smiled again to try to hide his uncertainty. "Yes, this is all that is left. You were the last to arrive."

Shimoyo blinked in shock. "But last time all of us met, there were more than two hundred! Where have they all gone?"

"That is what we are here to try to find out."

Shimoyo smiled again, more teasingly this time. "Have you been busy, nereth [brother]? You have not come to visit me."

Lúmë cocked one eyebrow. "Come to visit you? Were you expecting me to?"

Shimoyo crossed her arms and said seriously, "I do appreciate it when someone comes to visit me. Even though you work in the city, you could come and visit every now and then, nereth. I know it is a long way out to the passes, but…" She trailed off, feeling a little selfish.

Lúmë sighed, suddenly sounding very tired. "Things have not been going as smoothly as usual, as you can see, neren [sister]. I have been needed here." Lúmë was one of the First that were created, and was usually respected and regarded as the closest thing the seraphim had to a leader. Among the other seraphim, he was generally liked, considering that the seraphim were a closed race and rarely showed affection toward anything but their realm.

Lúmë nodded to Shimoyo and walked past her, taking great care not to let his wingtips drag on the floor. The seraphim in the room all quieted and watched as he strode to stand beside the enormous tree that occupied the center of the room. Lúmë extended a hand and placed it briefly on the smooth white bark, then turned to face the seraphim. As was the tradition, they formed a circle around the tree trunk, wings outstretched. Normally, the entire room would be filled, and wings would have to be half-spread to prevent entanglement. Now, only thirty-eight stood in a circle, and even with their wings fully spread they fell painfully short of creating even a single, unbroken circle.

Lúmë let his gaze pass over the seraphim in front of him. The girth of the trunk prevented him from seeing those behind him, as was their custom. The seraphim disliked direct attention, and so no matter where they stood in the circle, they would always be hidden from view from some in the room. The seraphim's leader took a deep breath, closed his eyes and began.

"Three thousand years ago, our creators made us when, at the height of their wisdom and skill, most of them departed in wartime to assist their allies. We were left here, more than three hundred strong, to guard and keep this place and its inhabitants safe until they were able, ready or willing to return. We know little about ourselves, and still less about our creators, for the Elves had little time before they marched, leaving only us and a few of their own behind. They did not know, when they left, that none of them would return from the home they left. They could not have expected the attack, and our single failure, that cost the destruction of the Elven remnant and a third of our own people. They had no time to give us all the information we would need." Lúmë opened his eyes and scanned the faces of the seraphim he could see. Shimoyo's wings quivered slightly as his intense grey eyes pierced her own. "We do not know why we are fading. We do not know why, over the past hundred years, all but a few of us have vanished inexplicably. One thing we know—this always occurs soon after a violent drain on our power."

Heads nodded around the room, and some whispered quietly to their neighbors, but none spoke out loud.

"It appears we have a choice to make. Either we wait here, as we always have, for the answers to come to us…" Again he gazed around him, and Shimoyo could hardly resist the urge to hide inside her wings from his stare. "…Or, we send some out to discover the problem, and right it before we all vanish and leave our home unguarded."

Silence reigned in the chamber for only a heartbeat before all the seraphim began to talk at once. Shimoyo alone remained silent, stunned at the prospect of leaving her home. The voices around her filled the room, echoing off the walls and creating nothing but nonsense. In the center by the tree trunk, Lúmë attempted to regain order, but nothing worked until he abruptly spread his impressive wingspan, startling the seraphim into silence.

"Now, we will not decide this immediately. We will take a recess to allow some time to think, then we will reassemble. Think carefully," he added, then nodded gravely. "I dismiss you."

Anlë couldn't help but sigh. Whoever was following him through this forest was doing an incredibly bad job of keeping quiet. Then again, he had better hearing than most. The elf paused in a clearing and listened carefully. Two elves…no, three. Three were tracking him, and although they were exceptionally quiet, they were pathetically easy for Anlë to hear.

"Why has he stopped?"

A slight rustling of the leaves, so soft it could be the wind, then: "Shut up, Estyl! He cannot know we're here!"

Anlë would have rolled his eyes, but he had never picked up the habit. He settled for a slight smile and started moving again, this time at a sprint. He caught a slight squeak of surprise from the first speaker as his three stalkers gave chase. He could tell by the sound of their movements that they were skilled in the layout of the forest, but he wasn't worried. Anlë jerked a hand up and caught a branch, leaping easily up higher in the tree. A moment later, the three shot by beneath him. He dropped back down to their level and followed them soundlessly through the leaves.

A minute later, the three elves stopped in confusion that their prey had suddenly disappeared. Anlë jumped onto a branch above and slightly behind them just as the first speaker, Estyl, young by the sound of his voice, turned to his two companions. "Now what?"

A new voice replied with a trace of irritability, "Just wait, Estyl, we will find him. He cannot have gone far."

The second voice Anlë had heard spoke up, and now he could clearly tell that it was female. "Let's spread out. The king ordered a safe escort for him through the forest, so we must not let him lose himself."

Anlë grinned and shook his head. He was not easily lost. However, he didn't want the three to split up on a clearly hopeless search, so he dropped through the branches down to stand right by them. The last two were startled, but young Estyl had an arrow nocked, pulled, and aimed at Anlë's throat before he had fully stood upright. Anlë ignored the sharp point and instead turned his attention to the three elves before him.

"I thank you for your protection, nerith ven [my kindred], but it is unnecessary. May I ask your names?"

The last voice Anlë had heard, the one that suggested splitting up, spoke up first. "I am Eris, master elf, and this is Caidë," she said, motioning to the irritable one.

The young archer spoke last, slowly lowering the arrow point. "I am Estyl. May I know your name?"

Anlë let his cloudy green-gold eyes rest on the three, then spoke. "I am Anlë, Master Estyl. An honor to meet you." He made a mental note of the caution in the voice of Estyl, of the calm, musical quality of Eris's voice, and the silence of Caidë. "The border is not far. You need not follow me further."

Estyl stood a little straighter, and his voice took on a note of pride. "It is our duty to ensure your safety, Master Anlë. We wish to—"

Whatever Estyl wanted to do was interrupted by loud shouts at the forest border. Without a word, the four took off through the trees. As he ran, leaping from branch to branch, Anlë drew his slim, strong blade, grimly touching the tip of the honed edge to his fingertip, feeling the eagerness in the cold metal. There seemed to be no end to the need to kill…