We all walked in a single file line. Ryllae was ahead of me and Bryan walked behind me with Wren behind him. Ryllae spoke as she walked.
"That creature that grabbed you? That's why we're here," she explained. "There are more of them out here. We're creature hunters for the Queen Mother of the Elven Realm."
"That's where we're going," I said.
She glanced at me over her shoulder. "Why?"
"We have questions for her," I answered. "We were sent by King David to investigate these creatures. What do they do?"
"They drag you into the trees," Ryllae answered grimly. "Then they eat you alive."
I shuddered. "Well, thank you for saving me. I don't really want to be anyone's lunch."
"Don't even think about it," I heard Bryan snap and we turned around.
Wren rolled his eyes. "She's bleeding."
"It's not my blood," I said but he walked around Bryan. "It's all right, Bryan. If he tries to hurt me, run him through."
Wren didn't say anything as he looked at the back of my head. It was starting to stink.
"Ry, you got my water?"
"You're going to waste your ration on hair?" she asked but passed a canteen.
"I'm not thirsty," he said with a shrug.
He uncorked the canteen and unceremoniously dumped it over my head. I coughed as some of it splashed into my mouth.
"Hey!" I cried indignantly.
He was squeezing my hair, though, and the smell was going away. He then started to rub something in my hair.
"What are you putting in there?" I asked.
"Perfume," he answered. "You reek."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, aren't you just the gentleman?"
When he was done, he fell back behind Bryan and we continued our trip. My feet were starting to ache and I suggested resting for the night. Bryan took the pack off and took out the blankets Uncle David had given us. Ryllae jumped into the trees to get some wood for a fire. From a pack on his waist, Wren took out two stones.
When Ryllae returned, he struck the stones together until a few sparks set the wood ablaze.
"We don't have enough for four people," Bryan said but Ryllae shook her head and grabbed a pack of her own.
"We came prepared, don't worry."
She sat down cross legged beside me while Wren sat on the other side of the fire.
"Would you stop staring at me?" I snapped. "You're making me uncomfortable."
"Just tell me what you are."
"Why is it so important?"
Ryllae rolled her eyes. "Because he's obsessed with mythical creatures," she answered, taking a large bite of bread. "He's the reason we're in this gods forsaken forest."
I sighed. "I don't know what I am. My mother is... part elf, part nymph. My father...."
"He's a werewolf," Bryan said quietly and I focused on the flames.
"So you're three things in one?" Ryllae asked and I nodded, eating a few grapes. "That's amazing! How is your mother part elf and nymph? We've only heard of one but she disappeared years ago."
I stared at her. She was talking about my mother....
"What does it mean to be a creature hunter?" Bryan interrupted.
"If there's a creature causing trouble in the forest, we go out to put a stop to it," Ryllae said. "We're trained to blend in with the trees. Wren has always been good with a bow and arrow. I'm more of a hand-to-hand kind of fighter." She held out her fists and punched a couple times. "Honestly, I'm here just because my twin has a death wish."
"I think it's fascinating," Wren said, laying on his back. "All the creatures in the world reside in this forest, Ry. Now there's one that no one knows about it. We could be the first to discover it! We'll be immortalized."
"Because that's what we need," she said sarcastically.
"So why didn't you take the one you killed?" I asked.
Ryllae sighed. "Their bodies disappear shortly after you kill them."
I nodded thoughtfully. "So is that why your clothes are so dark green? To blend in the forest?"
"Yes," she said and looked at my dress. "You're dressed like royalty. Are you a princess?"
"No," I said. "I live in a palace, though." I nodded to Bryan. "He's the heir to the throne."
"Ah," Ryllae said. "So you guys are to wed?"
"Ew, no," I said.
Bryan nudged me. "What, you wouldn't marry me?"
"Gross. Not in a million years. He may be my cousin, but he's more of a brother," I said. "Besides, he's got his eyes on another young woman."
He cleared his throat. "We should get some sleep. I want to get there tomorrow. This place gives me the creeps." He stopped and looked at me. "Are you... okay?"
I nodded. "It's starting to go away. Looks like Mother was right."
I yawned and accepted the blanket Bryan gave me. I took my cloak off and bundled it up to act as a pillow.
The human and... his traveling companion fell asleep quickly. I sat back up and glared at her.
"Would you stop it?" Ryllae hissed. "If she wanted to kill us, she would've put that arrow through your head."
"I don't trust her," I said immediately.
"Then why were you so bent on saving them?" she demanded.
"Do you really believe her story about being all those things?" I asked, ignoring the question.
She nodded, looking at the girl. "I can sense the nymph in her; she even has a nymph's name." She stretched. "We should sleep, too, Wren. We'll escort them to the Queen Mother and then get back out here. At least we had a close up view of it this time."
I nodded and lay out by the fire. The creature had been hideous. It had four slimy grey arms, a long grey and purple tail, and the face of a man but with the teeth of a wolf. It was almost seven feet tall. How many of those disgusting things were in the forest? If there were many, we'd need more hunters.
"As the sun rises and kisses the earth, her voice awakens the animals, she smiles down to the living creatures, she cases away the shadows, hmmm."
I woke up to the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. I opened my eyes. The girl was humming as she packed up her belongings. Her cousin was smiling as he did the same.
"I want to know where you learned that song," he whispered.
"I told you: Mother taught it to me."
I sat up and narrowed my eyes. They jumped at my sudden movement.
"That is the Song of the Sun," I said. "How would your mother know that? Only the Queen Mother knows the words. It is she who teaches us when we are still young."
"The path is clear for a while," Ryllae announced, coming back to us. "Get up, lazy bones. You slept in."
I stood and shoved her a little. "Shut up. You were supposed to wake me earlier."
"I'm not your babysitter," she retorted and turned to the others. "Are you guys ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," the man said and helped the girl to her feet. "What about you, Cori?"
She looked nervous but nodded. "What if she won't talk to me, Bryan?" she breathed.
He put his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. "Of course she will. You heard Uncle David: she's already accepted us. Beside, she's your grandmother."
They walked ahead of us and I stared at Ryllae in shock. We were both thinking the same thing.
Somehow, this was the granddaughter of the Queen Mother.