Stein Willard




The Shroud

The Teardrop Palace


Jonil pursed his lips as he listened to the cacophony of voices in the chamber, the most prominent was that of General Litl, the leader of the Wood Elf armed forces. He was also the man who, in Jonil’s opinion, was entirely to blame for the bungled-up attempt at rescuing the Moglahran. Yet here he was trying to justify his tactic and downplaying the epic failure it had been.

“Our tracking team has identified possible allies in our quest to rescue our queen.”

Our queen.

A soft murmur flowed through the room and Jonil frowned. Was the man even aware of his antagonistic speech patterns? Of the seven elven tribes, the Wood Elves were the largest and they made it known every chance they got as if that made them more elven than the rest. Unfortunately, they also possessed the largest army and resources which had made Litl assign himself the ‘unofficial’ leader of the recovery effort. 

“You mean the queen, aren’t you, General?” Jonil corrected the man. It was possessive speech such as Lilt’s that had been the catalyst in the Elven Revolt five hundred years prior. Just as was the case now, the Wood Elves had laid claim to the queen as a representative of their tribe and wanted the others to see them as superior to them. The war lasted a full century and decimated elven numbers, even those of the Wood Elves. It only ended with the introduction of the Parity Pact which acknowledged that all tribes were equal, regardless of their size and means. Also, the queen was officially categorized as an autonomous being, representing all tribes and reigning over all territories. Thus, the possessive use of the noun ‘our’ in reference to her was censured in certain circumstances. The title of ‘Moglahran’ took preference instead.

Litl was using the current panic of the queen’s abduction to subtly fuel antipathy and Jonil and the others would have none of that.

“Of course,” the Wood Elf agreed. “It was simply a misspeak on my part.”

“Good,” Jonil said as he stood. “I would strongly suggest we refer to the queen by her title of Moglahran to avoid any future misunderstandings.”

All eyes were immediately on him. He was a Sky Elf, which was the smallest of all the tribes, but also the most influential. The Sky Elves were the chosen advisors of the Moglahran. They formed her diplomatic corps. Nothing, and no one, got access to the queen unless it was through them—more specifically—him. The immense guilt he suffered for having ‘lost’ the queen while on his watch was dogging him every second of the day. He needed to fix this.

“Our earlier attempt yesterday was not only catastrophic but very nearly breached the general rule of concealment. The rash approach ruffled some dangerous feathers.”

“That is of no consequence to us right now,” Litl said in a booming voice. “We need to retrieve the queen and no rules stand up against our right to do so.”

“Even if it means exposing the existence of other supernaturals?” The chamber grew quiet. “We can end up without a queen and with many more enemies than we started with. Your forceful method was unnecessary.”

“They abducted the Moglahran. How else were we to show our intent in wanting her back?”

“Diplomacy has its benefits, General.”

The man scoffed as she looked around to the other five tribal Generals for support. “A waste of time, if you ask me. We needed to show force and authority.”

Jonil could feel his patience slipping as he looked at the man. “By getting the vampire queen involved.” Another murmur went through the room. It would seem that Litl had left that out in his presentation. But Jonil had spies everywhere and word got back to him of the attack on the Crescent’s property. “Not only did you attack the Crescent, but a Feral and it’s mate, a Purebred, as well.”

The chamber erupted in loud protestations and Jonil allowed them to process the news. Most of the objections were directed at Litl, who was trying his best to calm the furor.

“She wasn’t supposed to be there. We were tracking the wolves.”

“Well, she was there and she eviscerated our troops. Forty-nine of a hundred fell by her hand. The Feral and Purebred killed a further fifteen. That, General, was a needless waste of elven lives.” He took a deep breath, trying to suppress his mounting anger. As a diplomat, the ability to maintain one’s composure was a vital skill. Litl was quiet too as he sat and stared straight ahead. “The queen will agree with me on that point. She wouldn’t want needless blood spilled on her account. Thus, I have sought out Nordea’s help.”

Litl was back on his feet, his eyes bulging in indignation and the tips of his ears twitching back and forth in distress.

“WHAT? Why? That blaend is a relic. A leftover from a long-gone time of exaggerated heroism. Besides, she has also turned her back on us—her masters.”

“She has fulfilled her duty and earned her freedom, General Litl,” he said quietly. “She didn’t turn her back on us.”

The man threw up his arms, literally grasping at empty air. His attempt to rile up the others had failed, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet.

“What can she do that our troops can’t?”

“Not get killed, for starters.” Jonil swept the room with a hard look. “Everyone in this room knows that she is the best we have. She successfully completed thousands of missions and outlived all her peers in her three hundred years of service to the race. That relic,” he emphasized the word, “…is the reason we are still alive to sit here and pass judgment on her.”

Litl sat down but his expression showed that he wasn’t going to let it lie.

“Where is she now?”

Jonil exhaled softly. “I’m not sure.”

“But you are sure that she is already in the field?” General Cerell, a Fire Elf asked urgently. “It is known that Nordea doesn’t like to be crowded when she works and having our troops out there might hamper her efforts.”

Seeing the need to be honest with the generals, even if it might undo everything he had said earlier, Jonil held up a hand.

“I called upon her two days ago and as of yet had not heard back from her.”

As expected, Lilt jumped on it. “What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know.”

A sly look entered Litl’s eyes. “This is exactly what I was saying. We can’t trust the blaend.”

“It doesn’t matter if we do or don’t, General Litl. What matters, is that the Moglahran trusts her.”

A deathly silence fell over the room. No one would dare speak ill of the Moglahran or her choices, for she was too precious to them. However, what they said in private was what bothered Jonil the most. He wouldn’t put it past Litl and his small band of enablers to try and sabotage Nordea’s plans. Would they put their egos above the safety of the queen? Well, that remained to be seen.