I've just missed this...anyhoo. to begin!
Prolog - The Long Night
Breathlessly, the silver-haired man descended the hill, eyes wide with a mix of fear and elation. In his fist was clutched a rolled scroll tied with a black ribben, and he stared at this scroll with satisfied longing. Again, he glanced behind, the sudden movement disturbing his hair and revealing sharply pointed ears. His breath came heavy as if he'd run quite a ways, and in his haste he staggered, near falling the rest of the way down. A man near the bottom, his features hidden in the deep cloak he wore, caught him, feet planted so firm he barely moved. "Did you get it?" he hissed.
The elf steadied himself. "Somehow. But he knows I'm here."
"Well, its better than we hoped for." The hood turned, then pulled the elf toward the horses grazing aside. The elf's grip tightened, and the paper wrinkled in his hand. The hood turned, and he could see the dark silhouette within. "Are you alright?"
The elf smiled wanely in return. "I will be. Come, hurry!" He glanced back as a rumble of thunder echoed from beyond the hill. "He seeks us now."
"It'll be him, won't it." His tone indicated it wasn't a question. The elf sighed, but that was his only response. It was the only one needed.
Mounting quickly, they rode directly to the main road, for stealth would help little against this foe. Their best hope was to put as much distance as possible between them and the one behind them; perhaps they could avoid confrontation.
Alas, twas not to be.
Lightning struck directly before them, spooking the horses. The cloaked man was thrown and his horse fled into the night, while the elf managed to regain control. Before them a figure encased from head to foot in black armor stood, his sword in hand though the blade tip rested in the earth. "Greetings, friends." The echoing voice marked him as a man, a deep voice conveying a strong personality. "You caught me off guard. I was expecting you much later."
"I'll take that as a compliment." The elf smiled at him, a grin tight with tension. The cloaked man regained his feet with a curse. He pulled a cross-shaped tool from his cloak, gripping it tightly in his hands. Hissing something between his teeth, he held up the tool. A little wooden marionette appeared at his feet, dressed in a dark outfit with a belt lined with weapons. Long, near invisible strings appeared from his back, stretching to the ends of the cloaked man's control bar, for that was what it was. The little puppet came alive at a twitch of his hand, rising slowly to its feet.
"Don't get in our way - you know just as well what this means." he snapped.
"I know. But I have my duty.." The knight extended his hand. "Return the score to me."
The elf clutched it to his chest protectively. "Sorry, but I have no intention of doing so." He leaned forward, his lips almost brushing his horse's ear. "Currere ieiunium amici mei ," he breathed, and the horse suddenly burst forward, breaking from the road. The knight moved as if to follow, the dodged aside as the marionette slashed at him, revealing a blade in its hand. The cloaked one managed a weak chuckle.
"Deal with me first, if you hope to catch him. I won't let you pass!"
The elf did not look back, focusing on the path ahead. Behind him he heard a scream, but he only bit his lip and rode on. Ahead was the Forest of Musings, if he could just reach it, he would have a chance! He heard the faintest of whispers in the air and jerked the reins, forcing his horse left, and a great flash blinded him as a bolt crashed where he had just been. Gasping, his vision stolen, he silently loosened the reins. "Its all yours now," he said softly. The horse continued as if it understood, and soon the elf heard the rustling of leaves and other things underneath; they had entered the forest. He was suddenly whipped in the face by a stray branch, and he felt the thinnest trickle of blood escape. He leaned forward, burying his face in the horse's mane, trusting himself to him. The horse slowed, its head waving from side to side, trying to determine its way. The elf froze, deeply set instincts quietly warning him. Gently patting its side, he slid from its back. "Go on," he said softly. The horse nudged him, unwilling, and he repeated himself. "Ire." Reluctantly, it turned and fled into the woods, leaving him alone.
Gently rubbing his eyes, just able to see the vague, shadowed outlines surrounding him, he opened the scroll. It was filled with sheet music, written quite simply but with a depth and range only a true master could pull of. The elf focused his gaze upon the score, committing it all to memory. He heard thunder rumble overhead, loud and threatening; how close was he? Satisfied, the elf took the paper in his hands and tore it up, scattering the particles to the earth. "Its yours now, keep it safe," he said softly. The wind moaned as it moved through the trees, as if answering. The elf nodded, then carefully removed a beautiful lyre from the case strapped to his back. "Take it," he whispered, gently holding his lyre on his arm, his fingers hovering over the strings. "Keep it safe. I give it to you now." And he began to play.
A strange melody, its rising chords carried through the forests like a living thing. The trees began to wave back and forth, their leafy branches reaching to earth to spear small fragments of paper, which were swallowed up by the bark. The earth moved around him, but directly beneath him was still, opening up to receive the pieces or simply a shifting of earth to cover them. The elf continued to play, the forest itself swaying to the music.
The knight appeared from the trees, but made no move to stop the elf. He merely watched, a curious bystander in this sudden new world. Eventually, the music drifted away, and the elf smiled gently at him. "It is lovely, is it not? Such a beautiful melody, such a horrible intent."
"Different, certainly, and you play it best." The knight approached him slowly. "Yet, he whom I serve would have you killed for this, and he would not be amiss in this decision."
He smiled and extended his arms, his face a mask of peace. "Then, do so, my friend. I have no regrets."
The knight stopped before him, his hand tightening on his hilt. The, slowly, he thrust it into the dirt, and removed his helmet. Shaking his head, his dark hair waving about his face, he regarded the elf with a smile. "Don't you?"
The elf studied him, then said softly, "And then?"
The knight nodded deeper into the forest. "The song shall rest here, and Amadhal will be denied. You will cleanse yourself of regret, and then." He smiled warmly. "Then I shall finish you."
The elf smiled back. "You understand...thank you, friend. You're the one I would want to do this."
The knight nodded in return. "Hurry, you've only so much time."
The elf turned and fled into the forest, disappearing quickly. The knight watched him go, then asked, "Will you not even bid him farewell?"
"The point?" The cloaked man appeared as if only just materializing from beyond a tree. His right shoulder bled freely and his hand was immobile, though his left clung resolutely to his control bar. "He knows what he's done, and we made our farewells before beginning this venture. My question is, what will you tell your master?"
"The truth. He played, then escaped. I will hunt him to the ground, and destroy that which shall overtake him. It is simple." The gaze he gave the hooded man was harsh.
A sigh escaped from within the hood. "It is the Time of Successors again, isn't it? Can't say I'm sorry. Perhaps I will finally be relieved of my work."
"Yes, and then you'll settle down, take up a family, and spend the rest of your days smoking by the fire." His smile was mocking. The hood chuckled.
"I can think of worse things. Well!" He straightened, muttering dark curses. "You scared off my ride. Am I supposed to walk back to Highhelm?"
"The exercise will do you good." The knight retrieved his sword, sheathing it. "I'll see you in a month's time, then." and he walked away, vanishing into the shadows of the forest.
The hooded one watched him go, then turned in the direction the elf fled, whistling softly between his teeth. "Still...I can't help but feel it was a mistake to let him go...what if, in a month's time, he isn't himself anymore? Why couldn't he have just torn it up anyway..." He sighed, then blinked in surprise and forcibly punched himself. "Gods, man! Get a grip! Either he will or he won't. And he probably will, knowing that one! A bad copper if there ever was one." Snorting, he turned in a different direction and began walking, muttering foul curses every step of the way.