As Eliot was struggling about what to do, a pair of beautiful legs blocked the little elvish girl’s path and she bumped into them at full speed. While she was disoriented, strong hands picked her and the cub up and brought them away before they could see the grisly sight. After recovering, the little girl looked at the person that was holding her. An uncannily attractive face with a head full of red hair. The elvish girl was mesmerized. It was like she was seeing one of those fabled fire spirits or fairies she heard about in the flesh.
“Are you a fairy?” she asked.
Since the little girl spoke in elvish, Fang Chu had no idea what was said, so she just smiled brightly and pointed towards the village’s entrance.
“Do you want me to go there?”
The redhead grabbed the cub and gave it back to the child. She then pointed at the cub, the child and the village’s entrance.
“You want me to bring it to the village’s entrance? But there are scary noises coming from there.”
Fang Chu patted the child’s head, gave her an encouraging smile and lightly pushed her forwards from the back.
“Ok, I’ll do it! Will you visit me again, miss fairy?”
Fang Chu just smiled. The elvish girl moved forward and then turned back to look. The redhead had to keep smiling and waving to egg the child on. After she was twenty meters ahead, the child suddenly stopped in place.
“I almost forgot! What about mr. Lazul?”
She turned back once again and saw the redheaded fairy waving and smiling at her while pointing forwards. The fairy didn’t speak, but the little girl could tell that she really wanted her to go towards the gate.
“Well, mr. Lazul did seem busy... I’ll do as the fairy wants and show this cub to the other grownups near the village’s entrance. Wait a second, I could also ask them about fairies!” exclaimed the little girl with a sudden realization. “Maybe they’ll know how to talk with them! I hope she stays for a while so we could be friends.”
With new found motivation, the little elf sprinted towards the village’s entrance. Once she was finally out of sight, Fang Chu sighed in relief and returned to where her companions were. They were all waiting for her besides the tunnel’s entrance that was now open. Just a few meters inside the tunnel was Lazul’s body. His remains were placed against the wall and his head was resting on his lap. They had no time to properly dispose of the body, so hiding it inside a place only the elder could access was the best they could do.
“You managed to open it? That’s great!” said the redhead as she approached them.
“It took some blood and conveying the command with my thoughts for the roots to move out of the way,” said Liza as she showed her bandaged palm.
Besides the injured hand, Fang Chu could see that Liza was somewhat pale and had sweat on her forehead. The redhead suspected that this had nothing to do with such a small amount of blood loss nor did it have to do with her constitution that was currently recovering from the poisoned arrow.
“Come on then, let’s do this!” she said while patting Liza’s shoulder with some vigor.
The half-elf felt a tiny amount of pain and heat spreading across her shoulders from the patting. That small action filled her with warmth and new found confidence. She sighed deeply and turned her eyes to the dark tunnel that was faintly illuminated by Ghost Mushrooms.
“Let’s go. Everyone get in so I can close this entrance again.”
Liza closed the entrance behind them and they were soon trapped inside that dark place, their steps echoing as they moved forward.
“We don’t know if he’s the only one inside, so let’s use this again,” whispered Fang Chu as she created a sound barrier. After this occasion, she would be able to use that magical item only two more times. Though it took her years to use it for the first time, her father’s present turned out to be rather useful recently.
Beneath the great tree there was a round chamber. Its walls were made by weirdly shaped parts of the tree trunk and its roots, while the ground was paved with neatly arranged stones. A single entrance connected this room to the tunnel that led outside. At the center of the chamber was a large seed the size of a palm that emitted a hazy light. The seed was hanging at chest height, dangling from a thin root that came from the ceiling, like a strange chandelier. One could see it as something strange that sprouted from the tree… or maybe the other way around, like the entire tree was growing out of that strange seed.
An elf was sitting on his knees just below that seed, at the center of the chamber. He’d long blonde hair and pleasing facial features, though they were currently marred by his emaciated physique. Thorny vines were wound all around his body and tied him up to various parts of the ground. The thorns dug ever so slightly on his skin, making so that almost any movement would make them go in deeper and draw some blood. Even his face wasn’t an exception, as thorny tendrils wrapped around his head and made sure he kept his eyes shut. The only part he was allowed some freedom was on his neck and jaw.
The elf was sitting completely still, when he suddenly turned his head upwards and opened his mouth. Like it was prompted, a clear liquid formed at the seed’s body and dropped down to his open mouth. He let that single drop slid down his throat and finally felt like he’d some energy in him.
“Thank you for today’s meal,” he said quietly.
It looked like his actions prompted the liquid, but in fact he just had the timing down like clockwork. After wasting this meal during the initial days when he was imprisoned, he never got it wrong again. As he was about to return to his normal stillness, he heard the faint sound of footsteps in the distance. They came and went so quickly he wasn’t sure if he heard it right or if he was hallucinating.
“What? Has already been thirty years, old man?” he shouted.
His voice that was rough from being unused filled the chamber and travelled upwards the tunnel, echoing along the way. There was no response. Liza and the others were now inside Fang Chu’s sound barrier, so they had no idea someone just shouted at them. The elf chuckled derisively at himself and let his head drop.
“Great, now I’m hallucinating again. Not only that, but it had to be about the old man coming to visit me. What a joke! If I must hallucinate, at least show me something I truly want to see!”
Liza and the others finally reached the round chamber after walking for a while. It took them some time because the half-elf that was leading the way unconsciously let her pace slow down to a crawl along the way. When they crossed the entrance, their eyes were instantly drawn to the tied-up elf that was illuminated by the hazy light of the seed. Liza immediately stopped in place, like she was struck by lightning.
Though he was in a strange situation and much thinner, he looked exactly how she remembered him when she was little. Liza felt a swelling on her chest that made it hard for her to breath. She used to love him with all her heart, but one day he simple vanished. A couple days after he left, when both her mother and her were desperate, a courier came carrying his words. I’m sorry. That was it. Like that meant anything! Her mother cried like never before that night and she cried too. To think he once had the gall to call her mother his love and her his little treasure. To make matters worse, their village was attacked by bandits soon after.
Past scenes like that and many others kept surfacing to Liza’s mind. The floodgates of her memories were suddenly opened and many things that she kept bottled down and locked away deep inside her being were coming to the surface like an erupting geyser. Her resentment and rage towards that man which was festering over the course of twelve years was now boiling over in one go. The fact that he was restrained and clearly emaciated had completely flown out of her mind. She just wanted to rush over and punch him nonstop, until she could vent all those emotions that were bursting in her chest.
While Liza was going through this rollercoaster of emotions, the others were similarly stunned, but their surprise was towards the peculiar situation of the prisoner. When they turned to see her reaction, they saw she was beginning to rush forward with a fighting posture. Before she could take two steps however, a strong pair of arms embraced her from behind and locked her in place. Eliot was observing her from the start and noticed her unusual temperament. Feeling that something was wrong, he decided to restrain her and keep her from acting harshly.
“LET ME GO, ELIOT! That bastard is right there!” she shouted at the top of her lungs as she trashed about in his arms.
If this was ten months ago, Eliot would’ve let go immediately upon hearing that angry voice, but he’d grown a lot during this time. From a feral boy who grew in a jungle and knew nothing of the world, he was slowly turning into a functional young adult. One a bit more childish and cold-blooded than others perhaps, as conflicting as such characteristics could be. Nevertheless, he knew now was not the time to let her go.
“No,” he responded firmly.
“Let go of me! Let go of me!” she continued shouting hysterically while scratching his arms with all her strength and even biting them at some point. No matter what she did however, Eliot never let her go. After struggling powerlessly for a while, she finally broke down crying. Eliot relaxed his arms a tiny bit and tried to soothe her.
Fang Chu silently sighed and eyed the restrained elf with a harsh judgmental look. Ben and Boro were both stupefied as they looked at Liza. They’d never seen her act wild like this before. Meanwhile, the one responsible for the whole thing, the root cause of it all, was still sitting motionless, oblivious to everything and completely unaware that he’d just escaped from taking one hell of a beating.
After some time, the loud crying turned into a quiet sobbing as Liza began to calm down. After regaining her rationality, she looked at the arms that were holding her. They were full of scratch marks, with some of them bleeding, and there were even deep bite imprints. She caressed them tenderly as she eyed them with an apologetic look.
“I’m sorry, Eliot… and thank you,” she said quietly.
“Uhm, no problem,” he responded softly.
“Wow, it’s like we are not even here,” said Boro.
And just like that, the moment was gone.