Chapter 4: Elves

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Van Joss grimaced wryly as he watched Longspear being roughly bundled into the back of a wagon.  Alinar and Salina already sat huddled in the rectangular box.  All three had their hoods down, as did he.

Strangely enough it didn't make the elves themselves very happy that they had captured humans.  In fact, if anything, they seemed somewhat distressed.  But, speaking in a language that van Joss had to struggle just to recognize as the dead language of English, an ancient human tongue, they put aside their distress and efficiently bundled up their prisoners.  The two humans and the Primiad were then added to the growing number of Tigris the elves had already captured.

By this time morning was upon them.  And by the pale light filtering through the trees, the lean human could see that the elves hadn't yet managed to take the heavily fortified Tigris settlement.  But, as he watched, they began to wheel up their massive siege engines: scaling towers, catapults, battering rams and ballista.  It would be only a matter of time before Jekan Grim's gates fell before the relentless pounding they were about to receive.

Then van Joss's attention was being roughly dragged back to the wagon by a thick pair of legs abruptly appearing in front of him.  The human let his eyes slowly travel up the camouflaged clothing and armor to the face which, as Heg had said, looked remarkably human.  Despite himself, van Joss swallowed nervously.  This was the very first time he had the opportunity to look into the face of a living elf.

Powerfully put together and easily the size of the largest Tigris warrior, the elf's human-looking face appeared to be chiseled out of the hardest granite, all planes and angles.  And once again van Joss found himself silently amazed that such a big creature could move with as much speed and stealth as it did.

Despite the name, however, the elf didn't sport the upward slanting eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes and pointed ears of their namesake.  Instead they had a grim look of death lying close upon them, almost like a second skin.  That was what made them so feared: an absolute willingness to do whatever it took to achieve their objective.  Including dying, if need be.  Oddly enough van Joss found himself appreciating that.  Would any good operative working to save his or her nation do any less?

He was still pondering that as he let his eyes take in the details of the elf's appearance, including some sort of rank and insignia it had embroidered onto the sleeve of its black and gray uniform.  Both markings were completely unrecognizable.

"Your turn," it grated in a low voice, the English hard to understand.  Unlike Commander Brin, van Joss had learned English in order to read the old records in the Vault.  He valued any sort of intelligence, even it was a thousand years out of date.

Of course learning how to read a language wasn't quite the same as knowing how to speak it.  And so, despite knowing just about all the Fisted Languages of Noranda and Suudama, as well as Gideon's tongue, Tranalo, he was struggling to understand what the elves were saying.  At least he seemed to be picking it up faster and faster the more they spoke.

'I just hope I pick it up fast enough to be able to defend us when they start questioning us,' he mused grimly as the elf reached out to grab him by the arm, roughly hauling him to his feet.  Now standing once more, van Joss glanced down at the thick woven rope typing his hands together.  Given enough time, he could shed those.  But could he do it fast enough and quietly enough to free the others without getting caught?

He grimaced.  There didn't seem much of a choice.  If their mission was to succeed, he would have to affect their escape as soon as it was physically possible.

The big elf turned van Joss around and gave him a sharp shove in the back.

"Into the wagon," it commanded and, with a glance over his shoulder at the much larger individual, van Joss complied.  It was a little awkward climbing into the wagon with his hands tied, but he managed.  He found a seat beside a grim-looking Longspear just as the wagon lurched into motion.

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