Chapter 3

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Reina and Simeon crept through the forest, keeping low to the ground and sliding in and out of the shadows of the trees as much as possible. Reina's eyes flicked about restlessly, trying desperately to take in as much of her surroundings as she could; the light filtering in through the tree canopy had decreased significantly, implying that either the sky had grown cloudy or night was beginning to fall. Reina hoped that it was just cloudy; she didn't even want to imagine the hell this place would become under moonlight. But it seemed she was going to find out, as the air had grown chilled and her breath was beginning to become visible in front of her as she walked.

Simeon gasped suddenly, his head turning sharply, and it was then that Reina noticed his ears. She had to stifle a gasp of her own- this man's ears were as pointed as an elf's and both further and higher on his head, making his already-angular face look so sharp it hurt, not at all unlike the features of a wild animal. His gray-blue skin did nothing to ease the effect, and Reina had to remind herself that he had made a noise of alarm and that she should probably be focusing more on that than his ears. She turned her gaze slowly, crouching lower to the ground despite the fact that her knees and thighs were screaming at her.

A short distance away, only about ten feet or so, Reina could see three tall shapes that looked suspiciously like even more creatures like Simeon emerging from the fog, which had risen in height closer to Reina's shoulders than her waist. The glowing blue light of it illuminated the newcomers, and Reina had to hold in a cry of despair. It seemed as though the newcomers were a master and two servants or lackeys. The two on the outside of the group were ragged and bulky like Reina's first attacker had been, whereas the figure in the middle was both more sinewy and taller, probably checking in at about six feet three inches. The middle figure was also decidedly more feminine in shape, and appeared to be wearing an elegant helmet or headpiece that accentuated the height and size of her ears.

"Keep out of sight here; I am going to move a bit further in their direction and approach as if I came out of the trees," Simeon whispered, and Reina took the opportunity to kneel all the way down on the damp mossy ground, trying to move without disrupting the fog so as not to give away her position. Simeon edged away from her, silently padding through the fog. Once he was far enough away, he stood and began to approach the newcomers, gliding forwards regally and extending a hand languidly into the air. "Ah, hello there. What brings you to my forest?"

His forest? Reina squinted in disbelief but continued listening. "Brother, do not play these games with me. We both know I know better," the middle figure said, her voice obviously female. It was mild, but rang as clear as a bell in Reina's mind. Had she called Simeon 'brother'? There was no way that these two- "Yes, well I can see that now. I suppose there is an explanation for my estranged sister showing her face in my forest, right Syne?" And Reina decided promptly to stop making snap judgements about the situation and just see how it played out organically.

"Simeon, I received word from my sources that a foundling has arrived, and that you interceded on its destruction, not only attacking a fellow Brother of the Trees to do so but also hiding it. I doubt my sources would lie to me given that the penalty for doing so is immediate death, so please be kind enough to tell me what you think of that?" Syne's eyes glowed in the darkening forest, ice blue like Simeon's yet holding such a lack of emotion, a lack of caring, that they made Simeon's look as warm as summer. Simeon leaned back slightly and lowered his hand again as though gathering all of his thoughts into a little ball. "Hmm," he began, "I think, in reference to the 'that' you are referring to, that you should really keep out of my business. And it is my forest, so this is my business. I also think that you should make haste back to your fortress and check your holding dungeon, for I fear the trousers of your informant may have caught flames." Syne glared at her brother, her expression nonplussed, and waved her hand in the general direction of her two companions. The bulkier folk, one male and one female, began immediately prowling about, obviously searching for Reina, and Reina had to hold in a troubled gasp. Simeon half-turned, his eyes cast towards a stand of trees not too far from Reina. He exhaled smoothly, his breath clearly visible. The breath mingled with the fog, glowing, and wafted over to Reina, where it began to slide next to her ears. To Reina's surprise, she could hear a hollow version of Simeon's buttery voice whispering to her. "I am going to create a diversion by attacking my sister. In the ensuing chaos, I would very much like it if you would hasten over to those trees and scramble up into them. I would be extremely careful in avoiding the black lilies if I were you; they are poisonous and you have many open wounds."

Reina's eyes widened in amazement. This guy was obviously insane...which didn't say much because honestly Reina was unsure if she was really experiencing this or if she was drugged somewhere having a nightmare. But she was not going to disobey Simeon, not when Syne's two lackeys were trawling the fog looking for her so they could do who knows what. "Simeon knows," her mind whispered to her, and Reina wanted to scream. Simeon launched himself at Syne, shrieking and extending his claws towards her face. Syne responded in kind and the two went down in a tangle of flailing limbs and long black hair. Reina shuffled quickly over to the trees and managed to make it about halfway up just as the lackeys made it to where she had been hiding only moments ago. Now Reina watched from above as the rest of the scene transpired. Simeon stumbled backwards away from Syne, and Syne stood slowly, blood dripping from a fresh set of scratches on her face. She spat blood out of her mouth and glared at Simeon, but the fight had apparently attracted other spectators. New folk who looked just like Reina's attacker had arrived, and sat in the trees all around Simeon, looking at him like he was some sort of hero. "This is your last chance, Simeon. You may be Lord of the forest of blades, but foundlings are not in your jurisdiction. Hand it over or I'll be forced to launch an attack. You know the Council will agree with me; don't make this harder on yourself. You were already excommunicated."

Simeon drew himself up to his full height, slightly taller than Syne, and grinned. His teeth were painfully sharp, like those of a shark, and Reina was suddenly extremely glad this nutcase was on her side, at least for the moment. "Syne, this entire forest is under my jurisdiction, secrets included. I took the forest for myself through might and through use of strategy, both concepts for which I was excommunicated to begin with. All of these friends of mine agree with me, and they also agree that you do not belong in the forest of blades. I would suggest you get out of here before they ruin more than your pretty face."

As he finished the last sentence, Simeon cast a glance up into the trees, and all of the newcomers let out war cries, leaping to the ground. Syne and her lackeys immediately turned tail and ran off, all of the other tree folk giving chase. Once they were alone again, Reina slid out of the trees and Simeon rushed to her side. "That was probably the strangest exchange of fuck yous I have ever witnessed," Reina gasped, and Simeon grinned. "I'm not sure what you mean. Such things are entirely common for me. Anyhow, I am glad this happened now rather than later when we grew closer to where the forest ends; it would have been increasingly likely that she would have had more than just two companions if she had caught us on open ground. This was no attack party; she merely wanted to stick her nose where it doesn't belong so she could run back to our father and take all the credit if it turned out the foundling rumor is true- which obviously it is because you are here. A foundling in the forest of blades," Simeon mused, "This hasn't happened for probably about 3 centuries? Probably more.... But then, it doesn't matter right now. You are still injured and while I am Lord of the forest of blades not every single person in these woods fancies me as their ruler- as evidenced by you being attacked instead of brought straight to me. Come now; we need to get you out of here before anything else happens."

Simeon and Reina walked along for quite some time; Reina had lost track of time, and the fact that her watch was broken did nothing to help, but it had probably been at least three hours of walking before the light began to return to the sky and Reina could see where she was going properly again. The two finally came to the edge of the forest, where across a stream sat a rather quaint old cottage, though it was not like any cottage Reina had seen before.

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