Chernoe helped the human to his feet, and together, they proceeded on through the forest, until they arrived at a more robust expanse of flowers and trees. There, just beyond the threshold, was the queen of Cefen’adiel’s elves: Tarenda. She tended to a bed of flowers that were the most vibrant crimson that the ranger had ever seen.
“My lady,” Chernoe called out. “My lady, I bring to you the intruder I spoke to you about earlier. He has been speaking incessantly about someone named Icarus, of whom I am not familiar.”
“Now there is a name that I have not heard in some time,” she cooed, never taking her eyes off of the flowers before her. “How is it that a human knows the tale of Icarus Callatuil?”
Steel Tip furled his brow. “He trained me and sent me to you.”
Tarenda couldn’t hide her intrigue at that point. She rose from her knees and looked to the ranger. “You are saying that you know Icarus?”
“He’s been a friend of my family for generations,” the human replied. “And he recently gave me a baptism by fire in what it means to survive in the wilds. I believe that he sent me here so that I could continue learning from other elves.”
“Who is this Icarus, my lady?” Chernoe asked. “This is the first I’ve heard of him.”
She shook her head. “Icarus is an elf whose name should not be uttered, yet it seems he’s passed a bit into legend. He’s one of the oldest of our kind—around since the Fall. A good many people believe him to be the reason Tellest has been thrust into chaos.
“Those people are fools,” Tarenda continued. “Icarus should be venerated for his deeds these past few millennia. While Tellest was falling apart and bringing itself back together, he was one of the only constants lending his hand to the planet. If this boy is one of his wards, then perhaps the tide will have shifted in Cefen’adiel.”
She turned her attention to the ranger, then. “What say you to that, child?”
Steel Tip blinked away his stupor. “I’m afraid I’m a bit lost. I thought I was here to be trained in archery and swordsmanship and things of that nature.”
“If you’ve spent time with Icarus, you’ve all the knowledge you need of combat without actually getting your hands dirty. I’m afraid the only way you’ll improve from there is to actually experience the need to draw your bow and deliver an arrow into the heart of your enemy.
“No, my assumption is that Icarus sent you here for training in worldliness. You were sent to immerse yourself in the culture of the elves, to gain an appreciation for Tellest—both its beauties and its dangers. But Icarus has also become intertwined with this world. He knows what it needs even if he doesn’t realize he does. With that in mind, Icarus sending you to us has opened up a possibility that I’m not sure he was even aware of.
“You see, Cefen’adiel has been crying out for months now,” Tarenda continued. “The forest itself has been in pain, and all of our exploits to discover why have gone uncovered. While my people know the trees and the animals and the mountains, Cefen’adiel is simply too big a place to be fully conscious of. I’ve sent scouts to investigate the far end of the forest, and they’ve become lost to us. But you… you’re different.”
Chernoe stepped forward. “My lady, you can’t think to send him where others have failed.”
The elven queen raised her hand to placate her scout. “You’ve been trained by Icarus Callatuil. If he’s trained you well, you have a place within my forest. The fact that you’re human only bolsters my hope. Perhaps you could succeed where the elves have not.”
“I’m not in any real position to say no,” the ranger assured. “Just tell me what needs to be done, and I’ll gladly lend my hand.”
“First, it would be prudent to explain to you what we know,” Tarenda offered. “Come with me. Both of you.”
Steel Tip and Chernoe followed the elven queen through the garden, to the far end of the lush expanse. There, just beyond it, was a copse of peculiar looking trees. Tanned with smooth bark, they were unlike anything that the human had seen before, for they floated above the ground, mounds of dirt clinging to their roots.
“These trees are unique to Cefen’adiel,” Tarenda said. “They’re called cordus trees, and they are responsible for some of the more peculiar constructions on Tellest. You see, cordus trees are naturally enchanted to float skyward. Nearly three millennia ago, they lifted entire islands into the air. One such island was the floating continent of Shandranar. After the Fall, when magic was banished from this world, the Cordus trees lost their power. Shandranar fell from the sky, fragmented. Its many pieces were scattered to Tellest, and one of those pieces fell here on Draconis. These Cordus trees are the only ones to survive that dark time.
“If you are to be our champion, you will be given a gift appropriate of that title. A corduswood bow is said to be among the lightest in the world, and it will help you take aims at enemies that might do the forest harm. I’ll have one constructed for you right away.”
She turned to Chernoe, then. “As for you, child… if you are so concerned about this outsider, perhaps it would be in our best interest for you to accompany this boy in his mission.”
“You can call me Steel Tip,” the ranger interjected.
“What will our mission be?” the scout asked. “If Keldeyas has headed west, there is no need for us to travel in that direction.”
“No, decidedly not. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with our realm is an advantage though. With fresh eyes, a closer inspection of the area closest to us might be most prudent. Don’t you agree?”
Chernoe stared plaintively for a moment, aware of his queen’s intentions. “Yes, my lady. It is a good plan.”
“Excellent. Take the boy to the citadel and make sure he’s well rested. In the morning, we’ll begin our quest anew to determine what is causing the forest such pain. Before long, perhaps we can get to the heart of all that’s gone wrong, and set it right.”
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