Bound before him, his hands felt too empty. Chernoe walked ahead of him with two bows draped over his shoulders. One was the scout’s, but the other, beaten and bent out of place, belonged to Steel Tip. The fall had damaged beyond use, but Chernoe still didn’t allow it in the hands of the ranger.
“I still don’t know why you have me tied up like this. You know why I’ve come. You know my purpose here.”
“I know what you’ve said your purpose is,” the elf scout replied. “That doesn’t mean that I believe it.”
“You think I planned to get caught in your snare trap?” Steel Tip asked. “And was it also my plan to break my bow and end up in your company?”
“I don’t know what you planned. I have my suspicions. You seem like a petulant child and nothing more, but looks can be deceiving, hence my caution. You’d do well to learn the same patience. In any case, you’ll be taken to Tarenda, which is what you wanted anyway, is it not?”
“I had just hoped it would not be in shackles.”
Before long, the pair of them stepped past a thick copse of trees, and beheld the citadel in the distance. Its tall ivory towers and treetop bridges froze Steel Tip in his tracks. Chernoe continued on for several steps before he realized he was not being followed.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“It’ll still be there whether you walk or not. Come on. We’re still a long way from the citadel.”
As they drew nearer to the city of the elves, others of Chernoe’s kind focused on the odd site of the human he led in tow. He did not bother to pull his hood up, then. There was no way to stop the interest in the ranger, and the scout even picked up a few other tagalongs in his journey to the queen.
Upon the treetops, wooden bridges swayed in the gentle breeze. While the elves carried along with no worries, Steel Tip chose very slow, careful footfalls toward the center of each overpass. They were higher up than he dared to estimate, but he knew just by the ascent on the oversized fungi that lined one of the massive synoaks that it was much higher than he preferred to be.
“Do you want to meet Tarenda by nightfall or not?” Chernoe asked.
“I expected to meet her on the ground,” the ranger returned. “I’m supposed to be her for training, but I don’t think my legs will ever work again.”
The elves had the means to last far longer than any human, Steel Tip ventured. How else could they navigate the winding paths of their cities so? And without food, no less!
Chernoe and his quarry entered the citadel, where they were met by a familiar face.
“You’ve come seeking Tarenda, no doubt,” Enidine said. “She isn’t here, I’m afraid. Last I heard she was tending to the garden.”
“A queen, tending a garden?” Steel Tip asked.
“Your prisoner says much considering his place,” the maiden insisted.
Chernoe flashed a one-sided grin. “He’s not my prisoner… yet. Supposedly, he’s come to speak to the queen. All I’ve heard is him spouting some nonsense about some fellow named Icarus.”
Enidine stood straighter at the mention of that name. “Icarus? The Icarus?”
Steel Tip swallowed away his apprehension, and nodded. “Icarus Callatuil. Of Ippius.”
Enidine cast her gaze at Chernoe again, her eyes narrowed. “Even the fact that he knows of Icarus—while you don’t—is worthy of an audience with Tarenda. If I were you, I’d take him to her right away.”
With a plaintive nod, the scout continued on his way. Steel Tip offered up a subtle bow to the maiden, prompting a furtive giggle. Enidine went on with her business, though, except to watch Chernoe and his tarry hurry out the gateway toward the dais.
“I hope you’re not one with a fear of heights,” the scout said.
The ranger gnashed his teeth together. “I’d say I wasn’t, but then, I’d never been this high off the ground before.”
“The key is to think about it like this. You’d die if you fell from fifteen feet.”
“That’s reassuring,” the ranger said. All the while he thought about his own precipitous fall in the past—one that had robbed him of his memories. He had worked for some time at piecing together who he was once more, a task that Icarus had helped him with.
Chernoe handed him his bow, and in a blink of an eye, had produced a small blade. Steel Tip was free of his bindings before he realized it.
“Why have you freed me now?”
“You’ll hold on better if you have both hands available to you.”
“Hold on better?”
Without another warning, Chernoe stepped to the side of the oversized bough. While Steel Tip looked on to the beautiful dais up above, the elven scout took his bow and raised it above his head. He lay it down upon a firm cord, and leapt into the air. Without any further instructions to the ranger, he let gravity take its course, and he slid down the long expanse until he disappeared below.
Steel Tip’s eyes opened wide, and he only became aware of his fear when he realized he has stopped breathing. Alone atop an impossibly humongous tree, he inched his way toward the edge of the bough, and brought up his bow. “This is a bad idea,” he whispered.
Clenching his hands close together, his knuckles turned stark white, and he could hear them pop in protest. As he let his weight fall upon the simple, damaged bow, he noticed that it, too, registered an objection. But with Chernoe already so far below, he knew he had no choice. He leapt up, and began the fearful slide down the rope.
Cefen’adiel raced by him. Trees and winged fauna were there and gone in a blink of an eye, and for brief moments of his rapid journey, he could see the sky above. Then, he was beneath the forest canopy once more, lush greenery becoming one big blur as tears rose up in his eyes. As he blinked them away, he noticed Chernoe waiting for him not so far below. The rope led straight into another of those mighty synoaks, yet the elven scout was far ahead of it, waving his hands.
“Don’t forget to let go!” he cried.
Still high off the ground, Steel Tip couldn’t begin to imagine dropping from the sky. But as the thought of slamming into the tree began apparent, he alternated glances between that and the ground. A bed of verdant emerald was below him, and Chernoe bounced upon it.
The ranger exhaled a breath so fleeting that he didn’t even feel it. Then, without any further protest, he let his hand slip from his bow, and careened from his sliding perch.
Steel Tip fell like a stone toward Chernoe, who arched his eyebrow as the human descended. The bed of moss that he stood on had been cultivated over time to serve as a sort of landing pad for the elves who needed to drop from the citadel in a timely manner. Stretched out over a large pond, it was as safe a place as any to attempt a landing. But the ranger wasn’t attempting a landing, the scout realized. He was merely allowing himself to fall.
With undirected weight crashing upon the moss, Chernoe could see the pad stretched impossibly thin, the verdant green giving way to a pale lime that looked like it was ready to snap at any moment. The moss persevered, though, and launched Steel Tip back into the air—and Chernoe with him.
The two landed several dozen feet away on more solid ground, with the human rolling end over end until he came to a stop. The elf walked to him, and looked down with a wry smile.
“I neglected to think of how much more a human weighs than an elf,” he said.
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